Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Aboriginal Occupation of Australia - Timeline

Scott has constructed a timeline of events in connection with the occupation of Australia by the humans, beginning with a suggestion of why the first migrants travelled to Australia, the volcanic eruption of Mt Toba in Indonesia that occurred 74,000 BP.

74,000 BP

This is suggested as the time of the first crossing From Indonesia to Australia. Arriving by boat the first people to settle in Australia made the first ocean crossing in the history of the world.

There is a dramatic increase in the charcoal found at various locations throughout Australia between about 73,000-60.000 BP. Scott concedes that the increase of charcoal may have been a natural occurrence, though could also have resulted from the arrival of the first colonists on the Australian continents, and firestick farming has been practised in Australia for a very long time.

60,000 BP

The earliest signs of occupation by humans in northern Australia are found in archaeological sites beginning at this time.

51,000 BP

The settlement of south-eastern Australia. Artefacts found at sites in the ancient Willandra Lakes system have been dated to between 52,000-45,000 BP.

50,000 BP

Humans penetrate the Australian desert, based on a single stone artefact that was found at Paraku (Lake Gregory) at the northern margin of the Great Sandy Desert.

47,000 BP

The whole of the continent was apparently occupied by this time, with people living at Devil Lair in far south-western Australia.

46,000 BP

The first appearance of hafted axes. Starch traces have been found on some of the axes, some of which were found associated with charred nuts that may date to as much as 49,000 BP.

45,000 BP

The arid lands of central Australia were occupied about this time and the last of the megafauna become extinct, possibly as a combination of hunting, burning and a changing climate.

44,000 BP

By this time glacial Tasmania was occupied, with people living in caves and hunting wallabies around Parmerpar Meethaner, as well as many other cave sites in south-western Tasmania under subantarctic conditions.

42,000 BP

First known evidence of burial and cremation. The full skeleton of a man has been found, and the nature of his burial suggests belief in an afterlife. The author1 suggests this could be the first of its kind in the world. The burnt remains of a small woman have also been found in the Willandra Lakes, which is suggested to possibly be the earliest known cremation in the world.

40,000 BP

The oldest known evidence of art in the world has been has been found in the form of ochre coating a slab of limestone at Carpenter's Gap in the Kimberley.

36,000 BP

In the New Guinea Highlands new technology, environmental management and the procurement of food suggests pre-agricultural activity at least 15,000 years before anywhere else in the world.

35,000 BP

Fragments of a ground edge axe have been found at Nawarla Gabarnmang in western Arnhem Land.

33,000 BP

Variable evidence has been found of seeds of grass and succulents being processed and consumed in the Willandra Lakes and the Kimberley 10,000 years before anywhere else in the world.

32,000 BP

Shell beads have been found at Carpenter's Gap and Riwi in the Kimberley and Mandu Mandu Rock Shelter on North West Cape that date from 30,000-32,000 BP, making them amongst the oldest jewelry in the world.

30,000 BP,

The Great Drought, the beginning of the glacial drought. At this time Australia entered a major ice age, with a dropping sea level cooling temperatures, and an extreme drought affected much of the continent for the next 10,000 years.

28,000 BP

A charcoal drawing has been found on a rock fragment at Nawarla Gabarnmang that dated to 28,000 BP.

25,000 BP

The earliest known depictions of human faces that are found throughout the arid areas of Australia, part of the Panaramitee artistic tradition that is believed to be between 10,000-25,000 years old.

22,000 BP

In the Willandra Lakes a group of 23 people left tracks as they walked and hunted.

21,000 BP

The colonists occupied the continental shelf as it was emerging as the sea level dropped. According to the author1 they were living in areas such as the Bass Plain, the area that is now covered by Bass Strait between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia 22,000 BP and on the North West Shelf more than 30,000 BP.

20,000 BP

The first known appearance of the ancient Gwion and 'Dynamic' art in the Kimberley and Arnhem Land dated to between 16,000-23,000 BP, which displays elaborate personal decoration and technology.

18,000 BP

The Great Flood. As the ice age ended and the climate began to warm the sea levels rose which flooded the continental shelves around Australia, with the climate becoming wetter and windier, as well as more unpredictable.

13,000 BP

Conflict. It is suggested by artistic representations from across northern Australia that there was increasing territorial conflict at this time, that is suggested by the author1 to possibly have resulted from the loss of territory as the continental shelf was flooded by the rising sea causing increasing competition for land and resources.

10,000 BP

At this time the sea flooded across what are now Bass Straight and the Gulf of Carpentaria, forming thousands of islands around the coast. Populations that remained on Flinders Island and Kangaroo Island eventually died out.

The oldest k known boomerang was found in a swamp in south-eastern Australia.

9,000 BP

Around this time a range of tools that are more diverse and efficient developed, including 'backed' blades, spear throwers and composite spears.

6,000 BP

Burning and rainfall result in the production of large amounts of sediment that choke estuaries around Australia, eventually leading to the formation of enormous mangrove swamps, that grow into flood plains over the next 1,500 years.

5,000 BP

At about 4,500 BP the dingo arrives in Australia, which indicates there were new migrations to Australia. It is also believed there was another migration about 7,000 BP.

4,000 BP

The well-known x-ray art of Arnhem Land arises, that portrays human and animal anatomy.

3,000 BP

At this time there is evidence of territorial demarcation and conflict, believed to be a response to increasing population. There is intense use of coastal resources in south-eastern Australia, and economies specialise. The increase of sea level peaks and climate becomes increasingly unpredictable and drier.

2,000 BP

Across south-eastern Australia villages arise. Watercraft are used and aquaculture develops, and some evidence of gardening. Complex social and religious systems develop.

1,000 BP

The development of extensive trade routes across the continent for the distribution of precious resources, such as ochre and narcotics and tools such as boomerangs, grindstones and axes.

300 BP

Along the northern coast Indonesia fishermen arrive to trade. The coastline is explored by Dutch, Portuguese and British, and the British colonists arrive,

Sources & Further reading

  1. Cane, Scott, 2013, First Footprints: The epic story of the first Australians, Allen & Unwin.

Scott Cane has included in his book, written as a companion to the ABC TV series of the same name, a number of stories from his days living among Aboriginal people in the desert and moving around with them.


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated  04/11/2013

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