Abstract

In Australia, the onset of human occupation (≥65 ka?) and dispersion across the continent are the subjects of intense debate and are critical to understanding global human migration routes. New-generation multi-collector mass spectrometers capable of high-precision 40Ar/39Ar dating of young (<500 ka) samples provide unprecedented opportunities to improve temporal constraints of archaeological events. In southeastern Australia, a novel approach to improving understanding of occupation involves dating key volcanic eruptions in the region, referenced to stone artifacts and Aboriginal oral traditions. The current study focuses on two monogenetic volcanoes in the Newer Volcanic Province of southeastern Australia: Budj Bim (previously Mount Eccles) and Tower Hill. Budj Bim and its surrounding lava landforms are of great cultural significance and feature prominently in the oral traditions of the Gunditjmara people. Tower Hill is of archaeological significance due to the occurrence of a stone tool beneath tephra. 40Ar/39Ar eruption ages of 36.9 ± 3.1 ka (95% confidence interval) and 36.8 ± 3.8 ka (2σ) were determined for the Budj Bim and Tower Hill volcanic complexes, respectively. The Tower Hill eruption age is a minimum age constraint for human presence in Victoria, consistent with published optically stimulated luminescence and 14C age constraints for the earliest known occupation sites in Tasmania, New South Wales, and South Australia. If aspects of oral traditions pertaining to Budj Bim or its surrounding lava landforms reflect volcanic activity, this could be interpreted as evidence for these being some of the oldest oral traditions in existence.

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