Home Science Humans Aboriginals Lived in Western Desert in Australia 50,000 Years Ago

Aboriginals Lived in Western Desert in Australia 50,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists from The University of Western Australia working with Traditional Custodians from the Birriliburru Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) have recovered evidence that people lived in the Australian arid zone 50,000 years ago. This is 10,000 years earlier than previously understood for the interior deserts of Australia, and among some of the earliest known evidence for people living in deserts anywhere in the world.

Location of Karnatukul in the Western Desert, showing the location of sites named in text. (Image: via PLOS )
Location of Karnatukul in the Western Desert showing the location of sites named in text. (Image: via PLOS )

The remote Carnarvon Ranges are near the Canning Stock Route. Evidence from the Karnatukul site (previously known as Serpents Glen) indicates that people lived in this interior desert from very early in the settlement of Australia and that they remained in these ranges during the last Ice Age.

(l) ventral and (r) dorsal surfaces of tektite flake showing pitted dorsal cortex (SG1B1002007). (Image: via PLOS )
(L) ventral and (R) dorsal surfaces of tektite flake showing pitted dorsal cortex (SG1B1002007). (Image: via PLOS )

Lead Investigator Professor Jo McDonald, Director of UWA’s Centre for Rock Art Research and Management, said a significant find supported that this early group of desert peoples were technological innovators:

Professor McDonald said the findings supported the notion that the first Australians adapted with ingenuity and flexibility as they dispersed into every bioregion of Australia within 10 millennia after arriving on this continent.

Co-Investigator Professor Peter Veth, UWA Kimberley Foundation Ian Potter Chair in Rock Art Archaeology, said the finding represented a revolution in understanding the adaptive and technological sophistication of early Aboriginal peoples living in the interior deserts of Australia, adding:

Professor McDonald said the Birriliburru IPA is an area of exclusive possession native title determination area held in trust by Mungarlu Ngurrarankatja Rirraunkaja Aboriginal Corporation. The Carnarvon Ranges remain closed to unaccompanied tourist visitation. The Birriliburru Rangers actively patrol and conduct land management activities in the area to protect the cultural and conservation values.

Provided by: University of Western Australia [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

Like this article? Subscribe to our weekly email for more!     



  • Troy was born and raised in Australia and has always wanted to know why and how things work, which led him to his love for science. He is a professional photographer and enjoys taking pictures of Australia's beautiful landscapes. He is also a professional storm chaser where he currently lives in Hervey Bay, Australia.

Most Popular