Is the Pilbara region of Australia the oldest place on Earth?

The ancient Australians are the oldest continuously surviving culture in the world. They already knew this secret, but in recent years, science has also confirmed that the Pilbara region of Western Australia is one of the oldest places of life on Earth.

The Pilbara region began to form more than 3.6 billion years ago. Based on deep red rocks and vast as far as the eye can see, it is an ancient and difficult region that stretches from the western edge to the Northern Territory border in the north.

For first-time travelers to the area, the place and its sense of isolation can be unnerving. It is almost twice the size of Great Britain but has a population of only 61,000, making it one of the least densely populated areas in the world.

The oldest upper layer of the world

Scientists have determined that the iron-rich rocks of the Pilbara, predating the existence of oxygen and life, are the best example of the world's oldest upper layer, the crust.
It is believed that other deposits of iron ore in the world were created during this period, but the surface of the Pilbara was neither buried in the ground nor affected much, despite the geologically catastrophic events that took place.

Martin van Kranendonck, professor of geology at the University of New South Wales, has spent years mapping and studying the Pilbara. "What's unique about the Pilbara landscape is not just its age, but also its incredibly preserved state," he said.

Conditions for Earth's earliest life

According to Van Kranendonck, the Pilbara rocks are so old that they have no fossils in their composition, yet they also contain fossilized evidence of stromatolites, the oldest organisms on Earth.

In 1980, fossils of 3.45 billion year old stromatolites were found in an area called 'Marble Bar' (pictured above) near the Pilbara. These colonies of microscopic cyanobacteria first arose when conditions on Earth could not support any other life forms.
During this time, they formed coral reef-like structures and released oxygen through the process of photosynthesis.

Amazingly, the world's largest living stromatolite system at Hamlin Pool near Shark Bay, just south of the Pilbara, is still growing and even bubbles out of it as it floats in the extremely salty water of the bay. Produces oxygen.

It is one of only two places on Earth where living marine stromatolites exist.

Red Planet exercise in Australia

In 2019, NASA scientists conducted research in the Pilbara with Van Kranendonk to better prepare for a trip to Mars.

"Many of these people have never seen evidence of ancient life in person, and that's what they're going to Mars to look for," Van Kranendonk said. So it was a really great opportunity for them to learn to see and understand the details and structure of fossilized stromatolites so that they know which ones to look for when they study the Martian surface for evidence of life. The symptoms should be looked for.'
The rock's age, as well as its chemical composition similarities, mean that the Pilbara is of great importance for the preparation of Mars missions. "The composition of those rocks and the iron content in the Pilbara are strikingly similar to Mars, which is why it's called the Red Planet," says van Kranendonck.

Underground wonder

The Pilbara can be unforgiving, extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous for the unprepared. However, it is also mesmerizingly beautiful and captures the imagination of visitors from all over the world.

Although the area looks like a semi-arid desert, it is home to one of the most beautiful national parks in the world.

Carved into the earth by billions of years of slow erosion, the paradise of Karijini National Park lies in its ancient gorges and depths where amazing waterfalls and springs of clear water erupt between the rocks.
For tourists, this place is a paradise full of cool rock pools formed by underground springs, lush green areas and abundant wildlife.

For scientists, the Canyons of Karijini provide unprecedented access to the inner layers of naturally carved rocks that reveal much about the conditions on our planet when this ancient Earth was formed.

'It's a beautiful thing,' said Van Kranendonk. Those gorges allow you to look down into the layers of time.'

Only the noise of the waters

The permanent waterfalls, water fountains and oases found here make the Pilbara all the more attractive given its harsh outdoor conditions.

Like an ancient and secret reservoir, this natural pool has been carved out of the rock by the constant flow of water at the head of Hammersley Gorge. This bath-like space is almost entirely hidden in a multicolored and smooth rock wall. In one of the most hidden parts of Karijini, the only sound is the sound of the river filling the pool.

Australia's Hidden Secret

The only accommodation in this national park is the 'Karijini Eco-Retreat' owned by the local population. Morning is the most special occasion in this hidden peaceful place. The cool morning air is energizing, and the dim light filtered through the iron-rich dust in the air blankets the entire atmosphere with bright colors, and then the bright sun clears these colors by sunset.

At night when the sky is clear and the moon is not visible, Karijini offers amazing dark sky scenes for stargazers and astrophotographers. The dry air and lack of light pollution provide the opportunity to study the galaxy in detail.
Marnie Shields, co-owner of the Karijini Hotel, said that guests are often overwhelmed by the beauty, accessibility and diversity of the Karijini, saying, 'Karikijni is a unique and iconic Australian destination. This magnificent region is only just being revealed to the rest of the world, but it is still one of Australia's best kept secrets.'

A world of shocking contrasts

According to Pat West, a Karijini guide, the drastic change in climate, fauna and flora within the region shocks most tourists as they descend from barren plains to lush green valleys.

He said, 'It becomes apparent very quickly that the gorges have their own distinct atmosphere. The vegetation at depth is significantly different from the surface such as Melaleucas, which are the largest trees in the Pilbara. You won't find them on the surface at all, you only see them in the canyons. Then there are the delicate sardines, mosses and large-leafed fig trees (pictured above), a contrast between the inside and the outside of the gorge.'
The presence of permanent water in the canyons is the basic building block of the canyon environment that supports the development of fish, bats and predators that take advantage of the optimal conditions.

There is also an amazing abundance of reptiles. From small desert snakes to five meter long dragons are found here.

The importance of women

Karijini is also a place of cultural importance for the local people. Certain places in the park are recognized as women-only places and there are other places that are reserved for men only.

Dr. Amanda Harris, an anthropologist who has worked with the traditional owners of the Pilbara, explains the special places for women, saying, 'For example, women go to one place if they want to get pregnant and if they want to have twins. If they are, they go elsewhere.'
Fern Pool (pictured above), is located in an isolated setting at the start of the Dale Gorge in Carrigini Park. It is an important women's place for the local 'Benjima' people, yet unlike other places where the natives forbid intrusion, the traditional owners of Karijini welcome all visitors, asking only that tourists be respectful. Be patient and walk slowly.

A place of rest

Scientists believe that the Benjima people and their ancestors have been using Karijini, which means 'mountain place' in the indigenous languages, as a meeting place for 30,000 to 40,000 years. The nomadic tribes of the Pilbara maintained their lives and culture in a harsh environment in which daily gathering of resources was necessary for survival. Karijini offers them a resting place and access to resources, shelter and constant water.

Pat West said 'Karijini is regarded by all the neighboring tribes as a meeting place, as an ancient place where business takes place, families gather, marriages take place, traditions are told. And all this continues even today.'
Mount Bruce (pictured above) is the second highest peak in Western Australia and stands at the entrance to the Karijini.

It has both geological and spatial significance. Known locally as 'Panuronha', the mountain is a sacred site and highly significant in Aboriginal Australian law. For the Benjima people, it is strictly a men-only scene, with some elderly women avoiding even glancing at the peak as they pass by. However, tourists are not prohibited from taking pictures or climbing to the top.

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