Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Timeline of First Appearance in the Archaeological Record                                                                       

The study by Habgood and Franklin found that in Sahul, the various components of the "package" actually entered Aboriginal culture over a wide range of time, and widely distributed places, and were clearly not all present at the time of the original colonisation, as would be the case if the it had been brought to Australia with the first Aboriginal People. Australia was an ideal, place for the study because its human occupants  had been isolated from the rest of the world for for about 60,000 years, and so were free to develop their culture and technology with very little outside influence. The only contact with foreigners, prior to European contact, was some contact along the north coast with Macassan traders, and that began only in recent times. The islands to the north, and by them to New Guinea, where some trade was carried out, were also still living in the stone age at the time of first contact.

Sahul was continetnal Australia and New Guinea, at a time when the sea level was much lower than at present and there was a single continuous landmass that stretched from New Guinea to Tasmania.

Mellars (2006a) have suggested that the blade- and microlith-based parts of the "package" may have been lost on the journey from Africa, possibly because of the lack of suitable raw material at places along the way. Pope (1985) and Mellars also suggested that bamboo and other organic materials were used in the production of most tools. This has been refuted as an explanation for the lack of blade- and microlith-based technologies that were present in Africa, but not in Sahul. Artefacts on Flores made from fine-grained chert have been found that date from about 800,000 years ago. Similar objects were found on Liang Bua (Brumm) that date from 95-12,000 years ago. This demonstrates that was already a long tradition of fine-grained stone tools in at least parts of southeast Asia long before the ancestral Aboriginal People travelled to Australia. Further evidence comes from west New Britain, where obsidian tools were being used during the late Pleistocene and during the Holocene large obsidian blades were being used (Allen et al., 1989a; Gosden, 1995; Fredericksen, 1997).

Table of the first appearance in Sahul of the components of the "package".

  • 42,000 years ago - Ochre
  • 40,000                   Expanded exchange networks
  •                               Beads
  •                               Art
  •                               Burials
  •                               Freshwater shellfish middens
  •                               Edge-ground and waisted hatchets
  • 33,000                   Marine exploitation and shell middens
  • 30,000                   Macropods
  •                               Grindstones
  • 25,000                   Notational pieces
  • 24,000                   Mining and quarrying
  • 22,000                   Worked bone & other organic material
  • <5,000                    Late Holocene assemblages


Mining and quarrying


Sources & Further reading

  1. Phillip J. Habgood & Natilie R. Franklin, The revolution that didn't arrive: A review of Pleistocene Sahul, Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 2008
Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 30/09/2011
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