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‘We are from here’

At least 65,000 years ago: Archaeological evidence of first peoples on the Australian continent

Earlier 1700
Year level

7

Learning area

History

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. The First Peoples of Australia are the oldest continuing culture in the world. In what ways is this acknowledged? How does this acknowledgement compare to that given to the First Nations peoples of other countries such as New Zealand, the United States and Canada?

2. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the archaeological evidence of first peoples on the Australian continent is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look at the Willandra Lakes photograph included in this defining moment. Find out about the story behind this image at the Visit Mungo website. Why is this discovery so important?

 

Visit Mungo

2. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Piece of ochre from 53,000–59,000 years ago, found in Arnhem Land</p>
National Museum of Australia

In a snapshot

The earliest date we know that humans lived and travelled around Australia is always changing. Archaeologists continue to make new discoveries and modern science helps them more accurately date the objects that they find. The age of the piece of ochre in the photograph (pictured) is a good example of this. It is now thought to be over 50,000 years old. However this is just part of the story. Aboriginal people traditionally believe that their ancestors have lived in Australia since the time of human creation.

Piece of ochre from 53,000–59,000 years ago, found in Arnhem Land

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. Describe one recent discovery that shows how long Aboriginal people have lived in Australia.

2. In Aboriginal cultural beliefs how was the earth created and when did people first live on the land?

3. What is this creation process often known as?

What does archaeology tell us about how long Aboriginal people have lived in Australia?

Aboriginal people have lived in the northern parts of Australia for at least 65,000 years, longer than human settlements in Europe and the Americas. Extremely old objects such as the ochre have been found in recent years in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. Spoons, cutting tools carved from shell and beads thought to be necklaces were found in a Pilbara cave in northern Western Australia in 2017. These date back more than 50,000 years.

In 2018 about 11,000 Aboriginal objects were found in Kakadu National Park. Some researchers believe these objects could be up to 60,000 years old and possibly even older. Previous famous examples of Aboriginal occupation were found at places such as Lake Mungo in New South Wales and Devil’s Lair in south-west Western Australia.

Research task

 

Read about the Pilbara cave discovery from 2017.
How does this discovery increase our knowledge of the Aboriginal occupation of Australia?

ABC News

Footsteps in sand

What is the Dreaming and what does it tell us about the human occupation of Australia?

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ view of creation, humans have been in Australia since the land was formed. This creation process is often known as the Dreaming. In the Dreaming all-powerful beings roamed the landscape at the beginning of time, helping to create the physical features of the land and passing on the values, beliefs and practical rules or laws that people should live by.

Before the Dreaming there was a ‘land before time’ when the earth was flat. Later ancestral beings moulded the landscape through their actions and gave life to the first people and their culture. No one can say exactly how old the Dreaming is but Aboriginal people believe the Dreaming has existed from the beginning of time.

‘White fellas like theorising we come from somewhere else other than Australia to lessen our connection to country. We are from here. Our knowledge of our history is embedded in our blood and our country. Whitefellas knowledge of our history is only as good as their technology.’

Aunty Val Coombs, 2012, Quandamooka Elder

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. Describe one recent discovery that shows how long Aboriginal people have lived in Australia.

2. In Aboriginal beliefs, how was the earth created and when did people first live on the land?

3. What is this creation process often known as?