Telling the time with a grain of sand

CABAH researcher Dr Nathan Jankowski went back to his old high school, St Joseph’s in Albion Park, New South Wales, to tell them about his work uncovering Australia’s deep past at Lake Mungo.

Using bottles of gumballs, he explained the theory of optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to a Year 9 science class and demonstrated how to calculate an OSL age.

“We can actually use sand grains a little bit like clocks to tell the time that’s passed since they were last exposed to sunlight. We can use the technique to date artefacts tens of thousands of years old,” Dr Jankowski said.

He described his work at Lake Mungo, which lies within the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area, a nationally significant location that’s home to the continent’s earliest-known human remains and some of the oldest preserved archaeological traces of Aboriginal people.

Teacher Danielle Oliver said the visit provided students with “an invaluable insight into the scientific practices”. 

“Nathan delivered his story and a glimpse into both field and lab processes, using a variety of visual, anecdotal and hands-on strategies. The visit was very much enjoyed and students talked about what they had learned for some time afterwards,” she said.

July 17, 2019

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