WA’s Boodie Cave gives up secrets of human occupation

A cave used as a hunting shelter up to 50,000 years ago has given archaeologists an unprecedented insight into the life of the earliest Australians.

The Boodie Cave on Barrow Island, off Western Australia, was at the centre of research conducted by a team of international archaeologists, who this month said its work pushed back human occupation of Australia by at least 3000 years.

Lead archaeologist Professor Peter Veth, from the University of Western Australia, said work at the cave had produced evidence of Aboriginal people’s adaptation to the coast and desert.

“This site contains cultural materials clearly associated with dates in the order of 50,000 years,” Professor Veth said.

“This pushes back the age of occupation from the previous and more conservative limit of 47,000 years ago. Even older dates are entirely plausible.”

The archaeologists worked with the Buurabalayji Thalanyji Aboriginal Corporation and Kuruma Marthudunera Aboriginal Corporation.

Professor Veth said the cave on Barrow Island, which was once part of the mainland but now lies 60km off the Pilbara coast, provided a natural record of Australia’s changing landscape as well as ancient artefacts and archaeological information on the gathering and hunting of marine and desert animals.

He said the researchers worked with four international dating laboratories to date dietary remains at the site.

“The cave was used predominately as a hunting shelter between about 50,000 and 30,000 years ago before becoming a residential base for family groups after 10,000 years ago,” he said.

“It was abandoned about 7000 years ago when rising sea levels finally cut it off from the mainland.”

The research was published in Quaternary Science Reviews. Researchers from The University of Queensland, James Cook University, The University of Waikato, The University of Adelaide, Sacramento State University, Curtin University, Oxford University and the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife took part in the project.

The researchers worked with four international dating laboratories to rigorously date deposits in Barrow Island’s Boodie Cave.

Professor Veth said the location provided the longest sequence of dietary remains from any Australian site.

By Wendy Caccetta

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