While conducting excavations on the north Kimberly coast of Western Australia, archaeologists from the University of Wollongong inadvertently stumbled upon an incredibly ancient natural marine pearl — the value of which has been described as “irreplaceable.”
The spherical pearl was discovered at the Brremangurey Rockshelter in the Admiralty Gulf, which is home to over 12,000 years of Indigenous history. Because the pearl is so amazingly round, the scientists initially thought that it was cultured by ancient humans. But by conducting a non-invasive analysis of the item (including carbon dating), the researchers showed that it is indeed natural in origin, and that it’s over 2,000 years old. Details of the discovery were recently published at the Australian Archaeological Association.
“Pearls have not been recovered before from ancient sites in Australia,” noted study lead author Kat Szabó in a UOW statement. “Since the find is unique, analysis could not damage or take samples from any portion of the pearl, so researchers from UOW developed a range of non-destructive analyses to gather more information.”
The researchers say that the natural pearl had grown inside a small pearl oyster for over a decade before the animal was harvested by humans for consumption. More from the UWO release:
Although there are no records to suggest that pearls are of cultural significance to Indigenous peoples of the Kimberley, the pearl oyster shells which produce them are very important. The shells formed the basis of a historically-recorded trade which stretched from the Kimberley to the Central Desert. It is likely that the pearl at Brremangurey is a by-product of pearl shell collection. The great numbers of pearl shells within certain layers of the shell midden at Brremangurey suggests that the shells’ cultural value extends well back into prehistory.
For those of you living in or visiting Australia, the pearl will be on display at the Lustre Exhibition at the Western Australian Maritime Museum after 20 June 2015.