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Bone revelation

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

New research at Riwi Cave in Western Australia (pictured) shows that humans were using bone tool technology in Australia by 35,000 years ago – far earlier than previously assumed.

Riwi Cave lies on Gooniyandi traditional land in the south-central Kimberely region of Western Australia. Humans started visiting the cave as early as 46.4-44.6 Ka, with intermittent occupation until the present, despite gaps in the sequence. There were two more intensive occupations during the Ice Age, both coinciding with more humid conditions in a region where even seasonal water is scarce. The better watered centuries continued until about 37,000 years ago. After about 34,000 years ago, use of the cave increased, as the visitors focused on hunting larger kangaroos. The dry conditions preserved wood shavings and stone tools that may have been used for woodworking. The cave also contains tools fabricated from kangaroo bones. These include points made from leg bones (fibulae) that were easily snapped and comfortable to handle for multiple purposes, as tips for bird or fish spear or awls for basket making. Judging from the wear, many of them were kept and used repeatedly over considerable periods of time.

For years, Australian archaeologists had assumed that bone tools were a later innovation, used mainly in the south after the Ice Age. But the Riwi finds confirm that bone technology was in use throughout Australia by at least 35,000 years ago ­– and probably much earlier. After all, human occupation in Australia dates back to at least 65,000 years ago,

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