Guys were boating around in the Australian desert 24,000 years ago

Central Australia. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Early Aborigines are suspected to have been accomplished inland seafarers as they coped with climate change in the middle of the Australian desert some 24,000 years ago.

Researchers have discovered that Australia’s Lake Mungo, which has been dry for the past 15,000 years, once held 250% more water than previously thought and was connected to a neighbouring lake for a brief period before the peak of the last Ice Age.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, was led by geologist Kathryn Fitzsimmons from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, La Trobe University archaeologist Dr Nicola Stern and geologist Professor Colin Murray-Wallace from the University of Wollongong.

Dr Stern says the mega lake was so large before the peak of the last ice age that water levels rose by five metres, creating an island between Lake Mungo and the adjacent lake.

Artefacts found on the island, including stone tools, burnt bones and multiple hearths, show that people repeatedly visited the island.

Lake Mungo is the best-known basin in the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area in semi-arid south-eastern Australia. Its shoreline preserves Australia’s oldest known human remains.

The area’s archaeology documents human behaviour over the last 50,000 years, while its sediments illustrate environmental change over 100,000 years.

There is no evidence for watercraft use in Australia between colonisation of the continent more than 45,000 years ago and 6,000 years ago.

Although no evidence of boats was found during the latest study, the researchers say repeated visits to the island may find evidence of water-faring technologies.

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