Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Thermoluminescence dating of a 50,000-year-old human occupation site in northern Australia


THE oldest secure date for human occupation in Greater Australia is 40kyr from eastern Papua New Guinea1, whereas slightly younger dates have been reported from southern Australia2. We now report thermoluminescence (TL) dates that suggest the arrival of people between 50 and 60 kyr in northern Australia. TL dates were obtained from sandy footslope deposits at two former occupation sites that yielded a range of stone artefacts in their primary depositional setting. Artefacts terminated mid-way down one profile, which had a basal age of about 100 kyr. Confidence in the TL dates is given by their close correspondence with radiocarbon dates obtained from the upper occupation levels. These TL dates are not only the oldest yet proposed for Aboriginal occupation but also may mark the time of initial human arrival on the Australian continent.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Groube, L., Chappell, J., Muke, J. & Price, D. Nature 324, 453–455 (1986).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Allen, J. Search 20, 149–154 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Kamminga, J. & Allen, H. Alligator Rivers Environmental Fact-Finding Study: Report of the Archaeological Survey (Department of the Northern Territory, Darwin, 1973).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Schrire, C. The Alligator Rivers: Prehistory and Ecology in Western Arnhem Land (Department of Prehistory, Australian National University, Canberra, 1982).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Wintle, A. G. & Huntley, D. J. Quat. Sci. Rev. 1, 31–53 (1982).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Aitken, M. J. Thermoluminescence Dating (Academic, London, 1985).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Berger, G. W. Geol. Soc. Amer. Special Paper 227, 13–50 (1988).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Readhead, M. L. Ph.D thesis, Australian National University (1984).

  9. Singhvi, A. K., Sharma, Y. P. & Agrawal, D. P. Nature 295, 313–315 (1982).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Huntley, D. J. Phys. Chem. Miner. 12, 122–127 (1985).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Galloway, R. W. in Lands of the Alligator Rivers Area, Northern Territory 52–70 (CSIRO Land Research Series, No. 38, 1976).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Murray, A. S., Marten, R., Johnston, A. & Martin, P. J. Radioanalyt. Nucl. Chem. Art. 115, 263–288 (1987).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Murray, A. S. D.Phil thesis, Univ. Oxford (1981).

  14. Prescott, J. R. & Stephan, L. G. PACT 6, 17–25 (1982).

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Prescott, J. R. & Hutton, J. T. Nucl. Tracks Radiat. Meas. 14, 223–227 (1988).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Wintle, A. G. Nature 245, 143–144 (1973).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Roberts, R., Jones, R. & Smith, M. Thermoluminescence dating of a 50,000-year-old human occupation site in northern Australia. Nature 345, 153–156 (1990).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing