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      Aboriginal artefacts on the continental shelf reveal ancient drowned cultural landscapes in northwest Australia

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          Abstract

          This article reports Australia’s first confirmed ancient underwater archaeological sites from the continental shelf, located off the Murujuga coastline in north-western Australia. Details on two underwater sites are reported: Cape Bruguieres, comprising > 260 recorded lithic artefacts at depths down to −2.4 m below sea level, and Flying Foam Passage where the find spot is associated with a submerged freshwater spring at −14 m. The sites were discovered through a purposeful research strategy designed to identify underwater targets, using an iterative process incorporating a variety of aerial and underwater remote sensing techniques and diver investigation within a predictive framework to map the submerged landscape within a depth range of 0–20 m. The condition and context of the lithic artefacts are analysed in order to unravel their depositional and taphonomic history and to corroborate their in situ position on a pre-inundation land surface, taking account of known geomorphological and climatic processes including cyclone activity that could have caused displacement and transportation from adjacent coasts. Geomorphological data and radiometric dates establish the chronological limits of the sites and demonstrate that they cannot be later than 7000 cal BP and 8500 cal BP respectively, based on the dates when they were finally submerged by sea-level rise. Comparison of underwater and onshore lithic assemblages shows differences that are consistent with this chronological interpretation. This article sets a foundation for the research strategies and technologies needed to identify archaeological targets at greater depth on the Australian continental shelf and elsewhere, building on the results presented. Emphasis is also placed on the need for legislation to better protect and manage underwater cultural heritage on the 2 million square kilometres of drowned landscapes that were once available for occupation in Australia, and where a major part of its human history must lie waiting to be discovered.

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          Human occupation of northern Australia by 65,000 years ago

          The time of arrival of people in Australia is an unresolved question. It is relevant to debates about when modern humans first dispersed out of Africa and when their descendants incorporated genetic material from Neanderthals, Denisovans and possibly other hominins. Humans have also been implicated in the extinction of Australia's megafauna. Here we report the results of new excavations conducted at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in northern Australia. Artefacts in primary depositional context are concentrated in three dense bands, with the stratigraphic integrity of the deposit demonstrated by artefact refits and by optical dating and other analyses of the sediments. Human occupation began around 65,000 years ago, with a distinctive stone tool assemblage including grinding stones, ground ochres, reflective additives and ground-edge hatchet heads. This evidence sets a new minimum age for the arrival of humans in Australia, the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, and the subsequent interactions of modern humans with Neanderthals and Denisovans.
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            Palaeoenvironments of insular Southeast Asia during the Last Glacial Period: a savanna corridor in Sundaland?

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              Genetic and archaeological perspectives on the initial modern human colonization of southern Asia.

              It has been argued recently that the initial dispersal of anatomically modern humans from Africa to southern Asia occurred before the volcanic "supereruption" of the Mount Toba volcano (Sumatra) at ∼74,000 y before present (B.P.)-possibly as early as 120,000 y B.P. We show here that this "pre-Toba" dispersal model is in serious conflict with both the most recent genetic evidence from both Africa and Asia and the archaeological evidence from South Asian sites. We present an alternative model based on a combination of genetic analyses and recent archaeological evidence from South Asia and Africa. These data support a coastally oriented dispersal of modern humans from eastern Africa to southern Asia ∼60-50 thousand years ago (ka). This was associated with distinctively African microlithic and "backed-segment" technologies analogous to the African "Howiesons Poort" and related technologies, together with a range of distinctively "modern" cultural and symbolic features (highly shaped bone tools, personal ornaments, abstract artistic motifs, microblade technology, etc.), similar to those that accompanied the replacement of "archaic" Neanderthal by anatomically modern human populations in other regions of western Eurasia at a broadly similar date.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: ResourcesRole: SoftwareRole: SupervisionRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: ResourcesRole: SoftwareRole: SupervisionRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: ResourcesRole: SupervisionRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: ResourcesRole: SoftwareRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: SoftwareRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: SoftwareRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: Writing – original draft
                Role: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: SoftwareRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: SoftwareRole: ValidationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Data curationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: ValidationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Data curationRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: SoftwareRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysisRole: MethodologyRole: ValidationRole: VisualizationRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Formal analysis
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Funding acquisitionRole: ResourcesRole: SupervisionRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: ResourcesRole: SoftwareRole: SupervisionRole: ValidationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: ConceptualizationRole: Formal analysisRole: Funding acquisitionRole: InvestigationRole: MethodologyRole: Project administrationRole: ResourcesRole: SupervisionRole: ValidationRole: Writing – original draftRole: Writing – review & editing
                Role: Editor
                Journal
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                plos
                plosone
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, CA USA )
                1932-6203
                1 July 2020
                2020
                : 15
                : 7
                Affiliations
                [1 ] College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
                [2 ] ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
                [3 ] School of Earth Sciences, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
                [4 ] Centre for Rock Art Research + Management, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia
                [5 ] ARA—Airborne Research Australia, Salisbury South, Australia
                [6 ] Wessex Archaeology, Portway House, Old Sarum Park, Salisbury, England, United Kingdom
                [7 ] Archaeology, School of Humanities, University of Southampton, University Road, Southampton, United Kingdom
                [8 ] Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Karratha, Australia
                [9 ] College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia
                [10 ] Department of Archaeology, University of York, The King's Manor, York, England, United Kingdom
                Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, GERMANY
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Article
                PONE-D-20-04816
                10.1371/journal.pone.0233912
                7329065
                32609779
                © 2020 Benjamin et al

                This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Figures: 17, Tables: 2, Pages: 31
                Product
                Funding
                Funded by: Australian Research Council
                Award ID: DP170100812
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: Australian Research Council
                Award ID: LP140100393
                Award Recipient :
                Funded by: Australian Research Council
                Award ID: CE170100015
                Award Recipient :
                The Deep History of Sea Country project team (all authors) were supported by the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (DP170100812), with supplementary support from the Murujuga: Dynamics of the Dreaming Project (LP140100393), Flinders University and the Hackett Foundation of Adelaide and ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage (CE170100015). https://www.arc.gov.au/. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
                Categories
                Research Article
                Social Sciences
                Anthropology
                Paleoanthropology
                Biology and Life Sciences
                Paleontology
                Paleoanthropology
                Earth Sciences
                Paleontology
                Paleoanthropology
                Social Sciences
                Anthropology
                Physical Anthropology
                Paleoanthropology
                Biology and Life Sciences
                Physical Anthropology
                Paleoanthropology
                Social Sciences
                Archaeology
                Earth Sciences
                Geomorphology
                Topography
                Landforms
                Islands
                Earth Sciences
                Geology
                Petrology
                Sediment
                Earth Sciences
                Geology
                Sedimentary Geology
                Sediment
                Earth Sciences
                Marine and Aquatic Sciences
                Marine Geology
                Earth Sciences
                Seasons
                Spring
                Earth Sciences
                Geomorphology
                Topography
                Landforms
                Shores
                Earth Sciences
                Geology
                Petrology
                Custom metadata
                All relevant data are within the paper and its Supporting Information files.

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