Imagine venturing underwater off the coast of Australia, only to discover a hidden landscape once teeming with life. This isn't science fiction, but a captivating possibility revealed by a groundbreaking study.
Around 70,000 years ago, a vast region now submerged beneath the waves could have supported a thriving population of up to half a million people. This lost land, encompassing an area larger than New Zealand, wasn't just any undersea expanse; it may have held the key to human migration from modern-day Indonesia to Australia.
Kasih Norman, lead author of the study and archaeologist at Griffith University, paints a picture of this submerged "Atlantis." "We're talking about a landscape over 100 meters deep," she explains, "that once connected Kimberley and Arnhem Land, regions now separated by a vast bay." This ancient landmass, part of the supercontinent Sahul encompassing Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania, raises a crucial question: could it have been inhabited?
Despite its size, this submerged shelf remained largely unexplored and assumed uninhabitable. However, Norman's research, published in Quaternary Science Reviews, challenges this notion.
By combining intricate seafloor maps generated by sonar with data on changing sea levels over 70,000 years, the study unveils a dynamic history. Key findings include:
- 71,000-59,000 years ago: Sea levels were 40 meters lower, exposing a "necklace of islands" near Timor, easily accessible from Southeast Asia.
- 29,000-14,000 years ago: During the last ice age, a dramatic drop in sea levels (over 100 meters) created an extensive landmass connecting Australia and New Guinea. This period potentially witnessed peak human habitation.
Norman's research not only rewrites our understanding of ancient Australia but also offers crucial insights into early human migration. The close proximity of this submerged landmass to modern-day Indonesia strengthens the case for Southeast Asian origins of Australian Aboriginal populations.