Big Ideas 2017

Zenobia Jacobs

We humans are great travellers. Our species, Homo sapiens, can be found today on every continent on Earth. Our early ancestors were similarly possessed by wanderlust, fanning out from our African homeland into Asia, Australia, Europe, the Americas and the islands of the Pacific Ocean—in the process encountering Neanderthals (our closest evolutionary relatives) and other now extinct human groups. What has been the history of human colonisation of this planet, when did these dispersals take place and what migration routes did these trailblazers take? Did our ancestral pioneers ever interact with lingering populations of other humans? Answering such questions requires robust timelines to be developed, tested and replicated across multiple sites containing archaeological, fossil and genetic traces of human occupation. In this talk, I will take you on a virtual journey through humanity’s past, focusing on those chapters of our story that I have helped illuminate by applying a physics-based dating technique that uses faint emissions of light from single grains of sand.


Zenobia Jacobs (Yahcobs) is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and professor at the Centre for Archaeological Science, UOW Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health. Her background and training is in Archaeology and Earth Sciences, where over the past two decades she has pioneered technical developments in the dating of single grains of sand buried at geological and archaeological sites.


Keen to learn more? Zenobia is also an Educator with the ‘Homo Floresiensis Uncovered’ MOOC – a free online course available to anyone interested in the discovery of the hobbit and modern archaeology.

Last reviewed: 29 September, 2017