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What Lies Beneath – Australia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage

In our series of articles on Cultural Heritage to enrich your knowledge of life “down under”, here we would like to explore underwater cultural heritage – that of lost dwellings due to rising seawater levels.

Australia's Underwater Cultural Heritage

What is cultural heritage?

Underwater cultural heritage refers to the archaeological sites and artifacts that are submerged beneath coastal waters, representing the rich history of Indigenous peoples in Australia.
For those looking to emigrate to Australia, you may be interested to learn a little bit more about the natural wonders of both the land mass and the sea bed around the coastal waters of Australia. Indeed, people generally go to Australia to enjoy its rich outdoor life, and there is so much more to it than meets the eye.
These submerged landscapes hold significant cultural value, yet they are often hidden and face threats from various activities such as dredging, offshore development, and climate change impacts

Emigrating to Australia Australian Sea Life

Australian Sea life nurtured by the reef


Recent Discoveries on the Seabed

Despite the vast extent of these submerged cultural landscapes, Australia has lagged behind in locating, recording, and protecting these Indigenous heritage sites compared to international standards. Recent discoveries of stone artifacts on the seabed highlight the existence of numerous undiscovered sites around the continent due to insufficient investigation.

Efforts to address this issue involve a multifaceted approach, combining big data analysis with on-site investigations to predict and document underwater cultural sites. The integration of Indigenous perspectives and traditional knowledge is seen as an ethical obligation in marine science research and management.

Why are policy changes necessary?

Threats to underwater Indigenous heritage necessitate policy changes to enhance protection, as current laws inadequately safeguard these sites. While there are positive signs of industry engagement, such as with Woodside Energy collaborating with Indigenous groups, broader systemic changes are needed to ensure the preservation and recognition of Australia’s submerged Indigenous cultural heritage.

Who are the people involved in supporting sites on the seabed around Australia?

Two million square kilometers of inhabited land are now submerged under the water.  This is due to rising sea levels and important knowledge is being lost.  The following experts have dedicated themselves to supporting this project we link below to an article explaining their work and the work of others in more detail

Jonathan Benjamin – Associate Professor in Maritime Archaeology, Flinders University and ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage
Peter Jeffries – CEO of Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, Indigenous Knowledge
Sean Ulm – Deputy Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage, James Cook University

These and others now want to further research and record what lies beneath, the oldest footprints, and to preserve this knowledge for future generations.

For more information:

Those involved in the research believe that it is only through continued research in the coastal waters around Australia that we can understand the peoples that previously landed 65,000 years ago and lived in the coastal areas.  To see the full article click HERE

For our previous articles on underwater heritage, specifically the Great Barrier Reef, click HERE:

For more information on Australian Migration contact Greg Veal at [email protected]

Australian Landscape photo courtesy of Antoine Beauvillain

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