Marine sources of food were brought to the cave in varying quantities throughout the thousands of years it was inhabited, despite fluctuating sea levels and dramatic extensions of the coastal plain.
But we do know that the earliest Australians were originally seafarers. They came from island southeast Asia and no matter which route they followed had to make sea crossings of up to 90km to get here.
The timeframe is consistent with previous estimates of when people first began migrating to and settling Australia, long before Europeans showed up.
The team used radio carbon dating and luminance testing to establish dates for dozens of artefacts unearthed at Boodie Cave, on the northern shore of Barrow Island, 50 kilometres off the Pilbara.
In Boodie cave, the team discovered charcoal, animal remains, and artifacts that date back 50,000 years, they report in Quaternary Science Reviews.
The earliest dates for occupation of Boodie Cave, based on results from four worldwide dating laboratories, are between 51,100 and 46,200 years ago.
The discovery is of global significance in providing one of the earliest age brackets for the settlement of Australia.
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Professor Peter Veth at the Barrow Island excavation site. "I think to be able to provide more firm evidence which reinforces Aboriginal origin narratives of deep-time occupation, which goes up to and beyond the 50,000-year range - that's exciting", Professor Veth said.
Throughout this long period people returned again and again to Boodie Cave. The limestone that forms the cave provides ideal conditions for preservation, giving us incredible details about the people who lived there.
The cave contains some of the most detailed and intact records of how the first Aboriginal people on the Australian continent survived.
In the deepest levels, when the shoreline was 20km or so distant, there are only four different types of shellfish that we have directly radiocarbon dated to 42,300 years ago.
"Archaeological deposits ... reveal some of the oldest evidence for Aboriginal occupation of Australia, as well as illustrating the early use of marine resources by modern peoples outside of Africa", according to the study. When the sea levels were higher and the coast was close, there were many more fish bones left in the cave.
Professor Veth said the cave was abandoned about 7,000 years ago when rising sea levels cut it off from the mainland.
"The cave was used predominately as a hunting shelter between about 50,000 and 30,000 years ago before becoming a residential base for family groups after 10,000 years ago", said study author Peter Veth of the University of Western Australia in a statement.
Dietary remains in addition to shell artefacts, incised shells, shell beads and thousands of stone artefacts show that Boodie Cave was a frequently visited location on the landscape.
It also has the longest record of dietary fauna providing unprecedented insights into the lifeways of the earliest Australians.
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