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Scientists explore final Australian archaeological frontier under the sea

Sydney, Australia, July 2 (efe-epa).- The ancient sites of Australia’s indigenous people have been explored across the country but now experts have begun research into the final remaining archaeological frontier: under the sea.

The first two underwater archaeological sites studied have revealed new evidence of Aboriginal life more than 7,000 years ago, when the seabed was land, according to a study published Thursday.

These sites are at Cape Bruguieres and Flying Foam Passage, located in the remote northeastern Pilbara region and estimated to be between 7,000 and 8,500 years old respectively, according to the study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

At Cape Bruguieres, a team of Australian and British scientists found more than 260 stone artifacts, including mullers and grinding stones, on the 2.4-meter (8 feet) deep seabed.

At Flying Foam Passage, they discovered traces of human activity associated with a submerged freshwater spring about 14 meters below sea level, as well as two stone tools for cutting made from local material.

“Now we finally have the first proof that at least some of this archaeological evidence survived the process of sea level rise,” said the author of the study, Jonathan Benjamin.

“Our results represent the first step in a journey of discovery to explore the potential of archeology on the continental shelves which can fill a major gap in the human history of the continent,” he added.

Australia, which currently spans more than 7.6 million square kilometers (2.9 million square miles), was populated by Aboriginal people about 65,000 years ago when sea levels were about 80 centimeters lower than they are today.

“Australia is a massive continent but few people realize that more than 30 percent of its land mass was drowned by sea-level rise after the last ice age. This means that a huge amount of the archaeological evidence documenting the lives of Aboriginal people is now underwater,” explained Benjamin, who is the Maritime Archeology Program Coordinator at Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, in a statement by the university.

During the ice age — about 20,000 years ago — sea levels fell to about 130 centimeters below current levels, but then the planet began to warm up between 18,000 and 8,000 years ago and the sea-level rise flooded more than 2 million square kilometers of the land on the continental shelf surrounding Australia.

These former territories were characterized by their “freshwater, ecological diversity and opportunities to exploit marine resources which would have supported relatively high population densities,” explained Michael O’Leary, a marine geomorphologist at the University of Western Australia.

That vast terrain, which would have extended to about 160 kilometers from Australia’s current coastline and is covered by shallow waters, was populated by the ancient Australian indigenous people, whose legacy is still unknown.

“Further exploration could unearth similar cultural relics and help us better understand the life of the people who were so connected to these areas of land which are now underwater,” said Peter Jeffries, CEO of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, which represents the traditional owners of that remote Australian area.

These discoveries by experts from universities and research centers in Australia and the United Kingdom and the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, have been made within the framework of the Deep History of Sea Country Project. EFE-EPA

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