Many archaeologists and researchers dedicate their entire lives to trying to make sense of the long-forgotten past. That makes it all the more tragic that they can go through entire careers and never make any truly historical discoveries.
However, no matter how well-educated you may be, and how thoroughly you research and plan, sometimes fate has a way of intervening when you least expect. This is something Clifford Coulthard learned firsthand.
When Clifford and another researcher ventured deep into Australia to study ancient aboriginals, they weren’t having any luck. Then, Clifford decided to wander away from the group to answer “nature’s call”—and he found something amazing completely by accident…
Adnyamathanha country can be found at the northern end of the Flinders Ranges, 350 miles north of the popular beach city of Adelaide in Australia. It was here that one of the country’s most major archaeological finds was made… purely by accident.
Clifford Coulthard from the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association was exploring this rugged terrain with his colleague, Giles Hamm of La Trobe University, when he decided to take a quick detour in order to find a place to relieve himself.
Looking for a private area, Clifford walked up a narrow path where he found a spring surrounded by spectacular rock markings. Curious, he followed the trail of artwork—and what he found was much more than he’d bargained for…
It was an amazing aboriginal rock shelter! As soon as Clifford noticed that the walls of the shelter were black from smoke—a sign that humans had, indeed, made this their home—he rushed back and alerted Giles. Once Giles saw the site, he agreed that it was certainly something special.
They began excavating the site in 2011, and it wasn’t long before they determined that it was the oldest inland aboriginal site in Australia. Their research found that this shelter was occupied for around 40,000 years before it was finally abandoned around 10,000 years ago.
While digging up the site, the archaeologists found a veritable stash of ancient goods. They discovered layer after layer of animal bones, charcoal, ash, egg shells, plant material, and ceremonial paints. These signs of life may never have been discovered if it weren’t for Clifford’s stroll around the area!
The tools the archaeologists were able to unearth almost proved to be another major historical first. The axes and awls they founds were between 33,000 and 40,000 years old. That made them the oldest example of these types of tools in Australia and Southeast Asia.
The archaeologists also uncovered bones from the remains of 16 different types of mammals and one type of reptile. The most remarkable discovery were the bones of a Diprotodon optatum, a prehistoric wombat-like marsupial that was as big as a rhino!
Finding this mammal’s bones was also proof that this creature served as a major food source for the ancient aboriginals. That’s because there was no way for a creature of this size and shape to get into the cave of its own volition. This meant that the animal was hunted and carried to the shelter.
Perhaps the most important part of this find was learning that shelters like these were only used sporadically, most likely when the weather made living in exposed conditions impossible. It taught archaeologists that ancient aboriginals mostly lived a nomadic life.
Isn’t it crazy to think that if Clifford had not stumbled off the path to use the bathroom that this amazing shelter would never have been found? What a remarkable coincidence!
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