Dwarf dating australia

This article seeks to move beyond the view of ancient Australia as a timeless and traditional foundation story to explore the ways in which scientists and humanists are engaging with the deep past as a transformative human history.The revolution in Australia’s timescale was driven by the advent of radiocarbon dating in the mid-20th century.The nuclear chemist Willard Libby first realised the dating potential of carbon-14 isotopes while working on the Manhattan Project (which also produced the atom bomb).In 1949, he and James Arnold outlined a way to date organic materials from a couple of hundred years old to tens of thousands of years old.It is the latest development in a time revolution that has gripped the nation over the past half century.In the 1950s, it was widely believed that the first Australians had arrived on this continent only a few thousand years earlier.

It is all too easy to approach this history as one might read the Guinness Book of Records, to search the vast expanse of time for easily identifiable “firsts”: the earliest site, the oldest tool, the most extreme conditions.

The phrase “40,000 years” quickly appeared on banners outside the Tent Embassy in Canberra, in songs by Aboriginal musicians and in land rights campaigns.

When the bicentenary of European settlement was marked on 26 January 1988, thousands of Australians protested the celebrations with posters reading “White Australia has a Black History” and “You have been here for 200 years, we for 40,000”. The discovery of 65,000 years of human occupation at Madjedbebe rock shelter on Mirrar land, at the edge of the Arnhem Land escarpment, draws on a different dating method: optically stimulated luminescence.

The rate of decay and amount of carbon-14 provided the date.

“A new time machine has been invented”, Australian archaeologist John Mulvaney declared when he realised the implications of the method.

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Billy Griffiths does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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