Prehistoric Australians: Coming to ancient Australia

30 October 2013

Peter Hiscock
Professor Peter Hiscock will decode the archaeological record into Australia's first human inhabitants for his 'Insights' lecture at the University of Sydney this Thursday.

A leading expert on ancient Australia will probe the mysteries surrounding our nation's first colonists, distant ancestors of Aboriginal people who arrived from Africa some 50,000 years ago, at a public lecture at the University of Sydney this Thursday.

Professor Peter Hiscock, Tom Austen Brown Professor of Australian Archaeology at the University of Sydney, will decode the archaeological record in his talk 'Coming to Australia: The First Migration of Humans to Australia', as part of the 'Insights' lecture series.

Using the latest archaeological findings, Professor Hiscock will consider how and when this journey occurred, as well as the global significance of Australia's unique colonisation by prehistoric humans.

While artefacts suggest that other early hominids migrated from Africa across central Eurasia and Asia from 1.8 million years ago, the first humans in Australia remain a special case as "anchors of scientific knowledge of the antiquity of the dispersal", Professor Hiscock will argue.

"Australia makes remarkable contributions to the story of how humans spread to all parts of the planet," he says.

"It is only in Australia that we have an unambiguous indication of the antiquity of modern human expansions, because Australia (and Papua New Guinea which was joined to us in the Ice Age) was the first continent colonised by Homo sapiens that had not already been occupied by other hominids."

Rapidly spreading to populate all corners of the continent, these first Australians proved resourceful in the face of such challenges as large megafaunal creatures like the Genyornis, an enormous flightless bird that stood at over two metres tall. Genetic evidence suggests that this colonising group was surprisingly large, with nearly one thousand migrants including around 500 women.

"Most importantly, these colonists were not merely Africans with cultural elements and capacities missing. In a number of ways these people were Africans plus - modified biologically and culturally by their adaptations and hybridisations," says Professor Hiscock.

"Even in the earliest millennia of settlement, human life was characterised by geographical diversity and cultural adaptation rather than pan-continental uniformity and cultural stability."

This talk is the final address of the 'Insights 2013 Lecture Series', presented by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

Event details

When: 5.30pm - 7.00pm, Thursday 31 October 2013

Where: 5.30pm - Refreshments in the Nicholson Museum, Quadrangle, The University of Sydney

6.00pm - Lecture will be held in the General Lecture Theatre 1, Quadrangle, The University of Sydney

Cost: $10 per person

RSVP: Bookings essential. Contact Kate Macfarlane on 02 9351 7454 or

Book online now

Follow the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on Facebook here

Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961; 0481 012 600

Email: 3455310d3f610e5e1f530b2c3a0c2b5c2c4e05060b1b57111d