Aboriginal settlement in Australia was no accident but the result of large-scale migration by skilled maritime explorers, research shows.
Experts have made the finding using wind and ocean current modelling, similar to that deployed in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
The process was designed to simulate likely routes between the islands of Timor and Roti and more than 100 now-submerged islands off the Kimberley coast.
“There’s always been a lot of speculation about how Aboriginal people made it to Australia and a lot of people have argued that people might have made it here by accident,” study co-author and James Cook University archaeology Professor Sean Ulm said.
“What this study has shown … is that it’s so absolutely improbable that you can explain any of those lines of evidence with accidental voyaging.
It has to be purposeful, it has to be co-ordinated and it has to be fairly large-scale to explain the patterns we see.”
The Quaternary Science Reviews-published study estimated migration to the bridge of islands off northwest Australia occurred between about 50,000 and 65,000 years ago.
Prof Ulm said the sea was 75 metres lower and the islands visible from the parts of Timor and Roti.
The hundreds of routes modelled would have taken between four and seven days and spanned up to 150 kilometres.
“If you had the technology to make it there, it was really easy to make it to Australia,” he said.
“We’re talking 60,000 years ago here. So that is an incredible time stamp to how complex the first Australians were from the moment they first saw Australia.”
The study – by experts from the CSIRO and various universities – also used genetic information to show hundreds of people, not just a few, likely made the voyage.
“This is very significant because it was very early in modern human dispersals across the globe,” Prof Ulm said.
“We’re talking multiple boats, not just one boat blowing off course … reflecting the population in the mainland Southeast Asian area.”