A team of archaeologists working for the Australian National University, who were proceeding to an excavation near the sandstone rock formation of Uluru, has unearthed the ruins of a large precolonial city dating back to more than 1500 years ago. The important number of tombs and artefacts already discovered on the site suggests that it could have been the capital of an ancient empire, completely unknown to historians until now.
The site which was first noticed on satellite pictures taken in October 2013, using a newly developed ground-penetrating radar. The images revealed many 90° angles and various common geographic figures over a 16 km2 area, leading the team of scientists to direct some archaeological excavations on the spot, starting in May 2014. Over the last few months, many structures have been unearthed including what looks like a royal palace, a few temples, large rainwater reservoirs, workshops and dozens of houses.
Professor Walter Reese, in charge of the site, claims that the extent of the site and the superposition of various layers of constructions, suggests that it was occupied for 400 to 500 years, from approximately 470-80 AD, up until the 9th Century. He believes that the city could have held between 20000 and 30000 inhabitants, making it the most important center of civilization in the Southern Pacific at the time.
“This was certainly the capital of a vast empire, that practised some sort of international trade” says Mr Reese. “The fact that we have discovered some bodies of various origins suggests that this state could have been a very influential throughout the Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. We have found many objects on the site that were obviously imported from other regions, like rice, flax or lacquer.”
The various artefacts gathered from the site suggest that the city flourished thanks to some form of control over various gold mining operations in Southern Australia. The precious metal was purified and transformed by the hundreds of goldsmiths of the city before being traded for various other goods through an extensive network reaching as far as New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even China and India.
Professor Reese believes that the city could have been abandoned after some climatic changes in the 9th Century brought a dramatic decrease in the level of rainfall, making the city unsustainable.