It's being dubbed "Tasmania's Valley of the Kings." At the site for a proposed freeway overpass, archaeologists have uncovered what they say are the earliest southernmost artifacts of human life.
Still in the initial stages of archaeology excavation, a team of archaeologists unearthed thousands of artifacts near the town of Brighton on Australia's island of Tasmania, including stone tools that belonged to ancient Aboriginal tribes.
The researchers, using a process called optically stimulated luminescence, were stunned by preliminary estimates that the oldest artifacts may date back 40,000 years, more than twice as old as expected.
The chief archaeologist at the dig, Robert Paton, told The Mercury newspaper that the age of the artifacts makes them "the oldest most southern site on the planet, giving us a glimpse into an unknown part of world history and the spread of Homo sapiens across the Earth."
The discovery of what researchers are calling a "tribal meeting ground" has put a halt to the construction of a multimillion-dollar roadway that was to span the Derwent River in Tasmania's Jordan River Basin. Revised plans for the road include an elevated span so that the road will run directly over the archaeological site.
In recent months, dozens of people have been arrested for protesting the construction in order to protect the expanding dig.
"A bridge over the top of this important site is only going to disturb it," Aboriginal heritage officer Aaron Everett told The Mercury. "It takes away from the outlook of the whole site and as far as we are concerned the only option is to divert the road."
"The bottom line is that nothing must go within a bull's roar of the site," the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center's Michael Mansell told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"In terms of culture and history, this region now represents Tasmania's Valley of the Kings," Mansell said, referring to the Egyptian World Heritage Site that dates to the 16th century B.C., or roughly 36,000 years younger than the artifacts found near Brighton.
Modern human beings are believed to have descended from a common ancestor that left the continent of Africa roughly 50,000 to 100,000 years ago.
"It's important to keep in mind that the findings in Tasmania are preliminary," Steven Kuhn, an anthropology professor at the University of Arizona, told AOL News. "If they do turn out to be 40,000 years old, that's very old for Tasmania."
Human artifacts dating 40,000 to 50,000 years have been found in Australia, north of Tasmania. By comparison, modern humans are believed to have reached North America 14,000 to 15,000 years ago.
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