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Deep Time and Australian History

Tom Griffiths continues our series on History and the Environment, travelling into the longue durée of the Australian past.

'It is easy to forget’, writes archaeologist Donald Grayson, ‘that the antiquity of people on earth had to be discovered.’ Yet that discovery took place only a little more than a century ago. Geologists uncovered and stared into the ‘dark abyss of time’. Did humans have a geological history? Had large animals become extinct, and if so, had they once been contemporary with people? Did deep time and social history overlap?

In the two hundred years following the European invasion of Australia in the late eighteenth century,  the known age of the Earth increased from about 6,000 years to 4.6 billion, the antiquity of humans was discovered, Darwin’s theory of the transmutation of species linked humans and other animals, and a hierarchical progression of cultural stages based on technological differences was sketched for human races.

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