Archaeologists map hidden NT landscapes where the first Australians lived more


Scientists at Flinders University have used subsurface imaging and aerial surveys to look through the floodplains of the Red Lily Lagoon area in West Arnhem Land in Northern Australia.

Credit: Dr Jarrad Knowlessar, Flinders University Research Fellow.

Scientists at Flinders University have used subsurface imaging and aerial surveys to look through the floodplains of the Red Lily Lagoon area in West Arnhem Land in Northern Australia.

This groundbreaking method shows how this important landscape in the Northern Territory changed when sea levels rose about 8,000 years ago.

Their findings indicated that ocean had reached this area, which is now inland territory, which has important implications for understanding the Madjedbebe archaeological record—Australia’s oldest archaeological site.

The findings also provide a new way of understanding rock art in the region, which is recognized globally for its significance and distinctive style.

By examining how sediments now buried beneath floodplains changed as sea levels rose, researchers were able to see how the transformation of Red Lily Lagoon resulted in the growth of mangroves that supported marine and animal life in the region where the ancient rock art resides. located. These transformations, in turn, fostered the environments that inspired the subjects and animals in ancient rock art.

In their findings published in scientific journals PLOS ONE Today, researchers say environmental changes in the lagoon are reflected in the rock art as fish, crocodiles and birds are featured in the work as floodplains are altered to support freshwater habitats for new species.

Senior Author and Research Fellow at the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at Flinders University, Dr Jarrad Knowlessar, said the mapping fundamentally changed our archaeological understanding of the stunning landscapes of Arnhem Land.

“This is a key landscape for understanding early human occupation of Australia. Our reconstruction of the Red Lily Lagoon enables effective predictive modeling of prominent cultural sites and provides an important method for interpreting the presence and source of Indigenous cultural material.”

“The timing of the rock art parallels the broader environmental changes that we understand are occurring in this landscape. This is evident through changes in subject matter in art, such as large macropods, and the appearance of estuarine animal species such as fish and crocodiles in art. The inclusion of freshwater species, such as fish and birds, occurs in a recent artistic style in the region, and it reflects the phase of environmental change as freshwater floodplains shaped the landscape.”

“Based on the results of this study, all Pleistocene sites in western Arnhem Land were near the sea and, subsequently, mangrove swamps at some point during the landscape transformation. This has important implications for the paleogeographic setting of these sites, which must be taken into account when interpreting changes to stone artefacts, food sources and isotopic material composition from this period of the first Australians.”

Co-author, Associate Professor Ian Moffat, said Electric Resistivity Tomography (ERT) was a fast, inexpensive, non-invasive method that could map large areas of the Australian landscape to better understand their ancient history.

“We show how ERT data can be used to develop landscape models that are useful for understanding known locations as well as predicting where archaeological sites are likely to be buried. We have shown that the landscape of this region can be mapped effectively using non-invasive methods. This has important implications for discovering new sites but also for developing a more nuanced understanding of regional geography, and its impact on past human behavior.”

“The Red Lily Lagoon is of great archaeological significance in Arnhem Land as it lies at one of the easternmost points of the East Alligator River floodplain, where the modern river, Arnhem Plateau, creates a significant boundary between the lowland floodplain and the sandstone. the plateau, which has been occupied by humans for more than 60,000 years and is the site of countless important sites, including some of Australia’s most iconic rock art panels.”

Traditional owner and co-author Alfred Nayinggull described the importance of the research as “We want people to see and want people to know what happened thousands of years ago in the past. “

The new one PLOS ONE The paper “Reconstructing archaeological paleolandscapes using geophysical and geomatic surveying techniques: Example from Red Lily Lagoon, Arnhem Land, Australiais to be available at


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