New book fills gaps in Australia's deep time history

Media release
12 March 2018

Deakin University historian Billy Griffiths has captured Australia’s dynamic human history in a new book that follows the journeys of a number of this country’s archaeological pioneers.

Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia is the first history of archaeology written by someone outside of the field.

Mr Griffiths, a research fellow with Deakin’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, said the book charts the development of the emerging field of Aboriginal archaeology and the shifting cultural and political climate in which it has emerged.

“It is a history of the people and places that have shaped our understanding of ancient Australia,” Mr Griffiths said.

“It is also the story of Aboriginal leaders and their fight to be involved in decisions about their land and their heritage.”

Mr Griffiths was motivated to write the book by a desire to better understand the past and character of this continent.

“I was keenly aware of the limitations of the written sources for Australia’s history, which only go back a few centuries,” Mr Griffiths said.

“But this is not where Australian history began.

“We now know that this country’s human history began over 60,000 years ago.

“People thrived in the extreme aridity of the central deserts and hunted in the glacier-filled gorges extending from the Tasmanian ice cap. They watched lakes dry, volcanoes erupt, dunefields form and the sea level rise by 125 metres. Theirs is a remarkable story of transformation and resilience.”

To better understand Australia’s deep history, Mr Griffiths embedded himself with the archaeologists who dealt in deep time.

“As a historian, not an archaeologist, I had to earn a place on my first archaeological excavation in 2012 as the camp cook,” he explained.

“By day I would trawl through ancient kitchens, and by night I would cook for a team of hungry archaeologists.”

This informal archaeological apprenticeship took Mr Griffiths to sites across Australia and gave him a unique insight into the dynamics of archaeological excavations and the relationships archaeologists developed with the land and the Indigenous people with whom they worked.

Mr Griffiths said he hoped the book would help Australians engage with the deep past as a transformative human history, not just an old date.

“I hope this book helps Australians understand the incredible variety of societies that have lived here over tens of millennia, and the ways in which they made this country their own through language, song, story and fire,” Mr Griffiths said.

He also highlighted the challenges of living in a land of great antiquity, with its complex questions of ownership and belonging.

“We cannot engage with the past 65,000 years of Australian history without acknowledging the turbulent road of the past two centuries,” Mr Griffiths said.

Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia is published by Black Inc. Books.

Share this story

More like this

Media release School of Humanities and Social Sciences Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation (ADI)

Related News