PARIS – Australia was first settled by between 1,000 and 3,000 humans around 50,000 years ago, but the population crashed during the Ice Age before recovering to a peak of some 1.2 million people five centuries ago, a study said Wednesday.
Estimating the early population of Australia is a source of debate in anthropology, partly because it touches on how European colonization affected the country’s indigenous people.
In a paper published by Britain’s Royal Society, Alan Williams of the Australian National University took a fresh look at investigations into ancient settlements where charcoal and other sources have been carbon-dated. Using this data as a telltale of population change, Williams believes the first inhabitants of Australia arrived around 50,000 years ago and comprised a “founding group” of between 1,000 and 3,000 people.
This number is somewhat higher than previous estimates and suggests the first settlements were a result of deliberate migration rather than straggling, he said.
The newcomers crossed via a land bridge from Papua New Guinea, across a continental shelf that is now flooded, according to a common theory.