70,000 years ago, humans arrived in Australia by land, and we finally know which route they took

70,000 years ago, humans arrived in Australia by land, and we finally know which route they took
70,000 years ago, humans arrived in Australia by land, and we finally know which route they took

As crazy as it may seem given the current layout of the world and continents, the first humans to populate Australia reached it on foot. The discovery is not new. Scientists have known for several decades that there existed, 70,000 years ago, a continent – ​​which they called Sahul – which linked South-East Asia to Australia.

The Sahul, a submerged continent

But until now we did not know exactly which route the men had taken and at what times. On April 23, an Australian team of geoscience researchers published a new study, in Nature Communications, which tells us more.

Sahul emerged during the Pleistocene ice age. The glaciation process had lowered sea levels and exposed thousands of kilometers of land connecting what is now known as Australia, Papua New Guinea and Tasmania.

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This part of the globe remained uncovered for millennia, leaving humans able to explore it. But climatic events may have made this task more difficult or caused them to change course. This is what the Australian researchers focused on.

The path of men has been dictated by changes in the landscape

To understand the trajectory of humans who slowly migrated to Australia through Sahul, Tristan Salles and his team created a model based on climate changes known for the period between – 70,000 and – 35,000 years ago and sites archaeological finds since. Several migration routes seem possible, starting from western Papua or East Timor.

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The researchers also took into account the travel habits known to humans of the time. They were then hunter-gatherers and ventured into new places in small steps to find food. An essential element in determining the speed at which men moved.

A model to learn more about the journey of men on Earth

According to their model, the researchers now estimate that the migrants took paths along the coasts of Sahul to arrive, along the rivers that existed at the time, in the heart of Australia. A priori, they would have traveled, on average, 1.15 kilometers per year.

A speed which might seem ridiculous today but which was particularly rapid at a time when every meter towards the south confronted them with the unknown.

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This new study could help archaeologists find buried sites, traces of the passage of men. “Our study is the first to show the effects of landscape changes on the initial migration of the Sahul, allowing a new archaeological perspective”estimate the researchers.

“If we used this same approach in other regions, we could learn more about humanity’s extraordinary journey from Africa to the rest of the planet.”

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