Researchers report a network of water bodies across Australia that may have fueled rapid human colonization of the continent 47,000 or more years ago. Considerable archaeological debate surrounds the timing and routes of early human dispersal in Australia, and the distribution of water sources on the continent, particularly in the arid interior, might have played a role in facilitating human colonization of the continent. Michael Bird, Damien O’Grady, and Sean Ulm assessed the spatial distribution and permanency of standing water in the modern Australian landscape to investigate human dispersal on the continent. The Australian Water Observations from Space dataset and data on small permanent water bodies enabled the authors to conduct spatial analysis of 112,786 water bodies. The results indicated a high degree of landscape connectivity during wet periods and a high density of water sources stretching from northern Australia, through semi-arid and arid regions, to southeastern Australia and into the continent’s arid center. Moreover, an analysis representing human travel costs between permanent water bodies situated 84% of more than 30,000-year-old archaeological sites within 20 km of modern permanent water sources. The research also shows that multiple, well-watered routes into the arid and semi-arid interior of Australia would have existed during periods of early human occupation and dispersal. The findings suggest that a series of well-watered routes across Australia could have enabled the human occupation of the continent’s arid interior, according to the authors.
Satellite view of Australia. Wikimedia Commons
The study* is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: News release of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
*“Humans, water, and the colonization of Australia,” by Michael Bird, Damien O’Grady, and Sean Ulm.
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