Australia's human prehistory through more than 40,000 years is the theme of this survey. The authors bring together the discoveries and often controversial interpretations of six decades of archaeological research to reveal that across the continent, human responses produced many cultures, languages and life-styles. The Old World is usually credited with the origins of art and spirituality. Discoveries, however, have suggested that symbolic rock art and complex burial rites also existed in Australia at challengingly early times. The authors evaluate the dating evidence upon which Australia's human story before 1788 is reconstructed. They review diverse topics, such as the controversy about the time people first arrived on the continent's northern coast, the extinction of marsupial megafauna and the diversity of Aboriginal rock art. The text seeks to explain why Aboriginal Australia has come to be recognized for its significance in global prehistory and why so many of its archaeological places have merited World Heritage listing.