Island a precious time capsule
Archaeologist Cat Morgan. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian

Archaeologists have found ancient artefacts up to 18,000 years old in one of WA's wildest, most isolated and untouched areas.

New findings on Salisbury Island, 60km offshore in the Recherche Archipelago off Esperance, are expected to be the start of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever on the State's south coast.

Salisbury Island, a granite and limestone outcrop surrounded by steep drops into deep water near the continental shelf, has been virtually unvisited since it was cut off from the mainland by rising ocean levels some 15,000 years ago.

_The West Australian _joined archaeologists and traditional owners on an expedition to do the first site survey of the island and visit other sites in the archipelago.

Among the artefacts discovered were stone blades, lizard traps, axe heads, grinding stones and granite watering holes.

The team also found tools - including spades, a flensing knife and a musket ball - from the 1800s when early colonialists used the islands for whaling and sealing.

Aboriginal elder Ron "Doc" Reynolds, from the National Trust of WA-supported Gabbie Kylie Foundation, which organised the expedition, said it was a breakthrough.

"We are on the cusp of the most significant discovery of Aboriginal artefacts on the south coast," he said.

Archaeologists believe the prehistoric artefacts are between 5000 and 18,000 years old from when the Recherche Archipelago's 105 islands were part of the mainland.

WA archaeologist David Guilfoyle said the islands were inhabited in the last ice age before ocean levels rose a metre a year for 150 years and a great flood inundated the area, creating today's coastline and the spectacular Bay of Isles.

"There are very few places in the world that provide an insight into how human populations adjusted and adapted to these dramatic climate changes," he said.

"WA's Recherche Archipelago is one of them. Salisbury Island, on the outer edge of the archipelago, was one of the first islands created by these rising seas more than 10,000 years ago, based on our current models."

People living in these areas retreated to the mainland to escape the encroaching waters, leaving their homes and possessions virtually untouched except by the elements since then.

Mr Guilfoyle said finding flaked stone artefacts and a limestone rock shelter on Salisbury Island was an exciting development.

On Middle Island, the biggest in the group and 9km offshore, the team found more artefacts from the 1800s, such as spades and a flensing knife, just below the surface.

Ross Anderson, curator at WA's Maritime Museum, said the sealing "fur rush" started around the Bass Strait in the early 1800s and spread to WA, as did whaling.

The team also found under dense bush the ruins of stone houses used by whalers and sealers.

The West Australian

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