Australia’s oldest piece of indigenous jewellery has been found in the Kimberleys

The bone ornament. Image: ANU

Archaeologists have found Australia’s oldest piece of indigenous jewellery, a pointed kangaroo bone worn through the nose, in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The ornament has been dated at more than 46,000 years old and debunks a theory that bone tools were not used in Australia for thousands of years.

Dr Michelle Langley of the ANU says the jewellery is the earliest hard evidence that Australia’s first inhabitants were using bone to make tools and ornaments.

“We know people had bone tools in Africa at least 75,000 years ago. People were leaving Africa around the same time and arrived in Australia some 60,000 years ago,” she says.

Until recently the earliest bone tools found in Australia dated to about 20,000 years ago.

“Some people believed that the knowledge of bone tool making was lost on the journey between Africa and Australia,” she says.

Carpenter’s Gap. Image: ANU

“With this find, we now know they were making bone tools soon after arriving in Australia.”

The bone, a shaped point made on kangaroo leg bone with traces of red ochre, was dug up at Carpenter’s Gap, a rockshelter in Windjana Gorge National Park.

It was found below a deposit dated to 46,000 years ago.

Indigenous Australians found a variety of uses for kangaroo leg bones including leatherwork, basketry, ceremonial tasks and bodily decoration.

“The bone we found is most consistent with those used for facial decoration,” she says.

“All across Australia both men and women would wear a bone point through their nose identical to this one. Children in some communities were known to have had their nose pierced quite young, while in others only certain individuals were allowed to adorn themselves in this fashion.”

Dr Langley says the artefact is rare and remarkable discovery.

“Organic based items like this don’t survive in the north Australian archaeological record very often, so it’s a very unusual find,” she says.

The research has been published in Quaternary Science Reviews.

The site of the discovery is located in the same national park that a fragment of the world’s oldest stone axe was found.

Despite being the size of a thumbnail the piece dates back to the Stone Age, 45,000 to 49,000 years ago, about the same time humans arrived in Australia. Read more on that here.

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