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Transformation of the Red Lily Lagoon led to the growth of mangroves that supported animal life and underwater life

Scientists from Flinders University used subsurface imaging and aerial surveys to see through floodplains in the Red Lily Lagoon area of ​​West Arnhem Land, northern Australia.

These pioneering methods showed how this important landscape in the Northern Territory changed when sea levels rose around 8,000 years ago.

Their discovery shows that the ocean reached this, now inland, region, which has important implications for understanding the archaeological record of Madjedbebe – Australia’s oldest archaeological site.

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

By examining how the sediments now buried beneath the floodplains changed as sea levels rose, scientists can see how the transformation of the Red Lily Lagoon led to the growth of mangroves that supported animal life and underwater life in the area, which is home to ancient Aboriginal rock art.

 This transformation in turn created the environment that inspired the objects and animals in ancient rock art. The researchers say environmental changes in the lagoon are reflected in the rock art, as fish, crocodiles and birds were included in the art as the floodplain transformed to support freshwater habitats for new species.

Dr. Jarrad Knowlessar, lead author and research fellow at Flinders University’s College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, says the mapping is fundamentally changing our archaeological understanding of Arnhem Land’s amazing landscape.

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

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Ocean and subsequently to mangrove swamps at some point in the landscape transformation

“The timing of the rock art is consistent with the wider environmental changes we knew to have taken place in this landscape. This is evident through changes in the art subject, such as large macropods, and the appearance of estuarine species such as fish and crocodiles in art. The incorporation of freshwater species such as fish and birds occurs in the latest artistic styles of the region, and this reflects the stages of environmental change when freshwater floodplains formed the landscape.”

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

“We demonstrate how ERT data can be used to develop landscape models that are useful for understanding known sites as well as predicting where buried archaeological sites might be located. We have shown that the landscapes of this region can be effectively mapped using other – invasive methods. This has important implications for locating new sites, but also for developing a more detailed understanding of regional geography and its impact on past human behavior.”

“Red Lily Lagoon is of particular archaeological importance in Arnhem Land because it is located at one of the easternmost points of the East Alligator River floodplain, where the modern river, the Arnhem Plateau, forms a significant boundary between the low-lying floodplain and the sandstone. the highlands, which have been occupied by humans for over 60,000 years and are home to countless significant sites, including some of the most famous rock panels in Australia.”

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

Written by: Vaishali verma

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