Teaching chronology in deep time history

Katie Roberts-Hull
Humans are not that great at putting time in perspective. The huge spans of time in human history make it almost impossible to get a handle on. This is true for secondary students as much as it is also true for adults.

It is difficult to conceptualise, for example, that Cleopatra is closer to our present time than to the times of Ancient Egypt's early dynastic past (Cleopatra was born ~2,500 years after the Great Pyramid at Giza was built, and ~2,000 years before the first lunar landing).

When we teach ancient Australian history, many students may not realise how vast the timescale is.

Ancient Australian history begins about 65,000 years ago. This is a completely different time scale to other histories we teach. Ancient Australia begins tens of thousands of years prior to the first civilisations. 

To help students conceptualise the vast timescale of deep time Australia, it is helpful to make copious use of timelines. 
First, give students a high-level picture of where ancient humans fall in the history of the world. Children can sometimes be under the impression that ancient humans and dinosaurs co-existed - a great chance for some myth busting. 
Next, briefly introduce homo sapiens (our species) as a relatively new human. We've only existed for about 300,000  years, and our ancestors did a lot of innovating before we even arrived. 
Finally, introduce the First Australians, showing that they came quite a bit after the first homo sapiens but much before other ancient civilisations that we learn about. We think of the Egyptian pyramids as extremely old, but in the context of all of human history, they are relatively new!

This makes the accomplishments of the First Australians much more fascinating. Tens of thousands of years before many others, they were already traversing the globe and colonising new lands that no human had ever seen before. 

You can also introduce the idea of recorded history here to show how evidence about Ancient Australia will be different because there are no written records. This is why we teach about archeology and other methods in deep time history. 

The above timelines are part of Unit 1: Humans in the Open Stage teaching resources. 

Click here to access Unit 1.


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