Emma’s studies began in 2014 with an Arts degree, majoring in archaeology.
Unsure of what to do next, a position with Professor Michael Bird’s research group caught her eye. The group’s subsequent work is revolutionary — no research like this has ever been done in eastern Arnhem Land.
“This is the first prehistoric record of fire for that part of mainland Australia. A lot of the charcoal techniques I’m using have been developed in the northern hemisphere and haven’t been used yet in Australia.”
Her work has paid off, and has produced some surprises along the way.
“When you pull a metre of dirt from the bottom of a lake, there’s no way to tell how old it is just by looking at it. One of my samples turned out to be over 4,000 years older than I was expecting. And some of the charcoal remnants we’ve found are evidence of fires that occurred up to 20,000 years ago!”
Emma is proud to be contributing to the knowledge of Australia’s past.
“Australia has an incredibly rich history that goes back a lot further than most people think,” she says.
“It’s really exciting looking at a core and thinking, ‘Wow, this is 20,000 years old’, or ‘Wow, there was a fire here 8,000 years ago’, so for me I’d like to share that excitement with other people.”
Emma admitted that some aspects of her work are more challenging than others, but she said it’s all worth it to raise awareness of climate change.
“Sitting in front of a microscope for over 200 hours counting charcoal can make you feel like you’re not really getting anywhere. But the past is so important. I want my work to draw attention to climate change. I want people to start thinking about this stuff — not just scientists, but the general public too. Getting people interested in it is the only way things are going to change.”