The Jinmium rock shelter is located in the Kimberley region of northern Australia. Claims for ancient rock art and an early human presence at this site were based on thermoluminescence ages of 50-75 thousand years (kyr) for quartz sands associated with buried circular engravings (pecked cupules) and on thermoluminescence ages of 116-176kyr for the underlying artefact-bearing deposits. Here we report substantially younger optical ages for quartz sand, and ages based on measurements of radioactive carbon in charcoal fragments, from the occupation deposit. Using conventional (multiple-grain) optical dating methods, we estimate that the base of the deposit is 22kyr. However, dating of individual grains shows that some have been buried more recently. The single-grain optical ages indicate that the Jinmium deposit is younger than 10kyr. This result is in agreement with the late-Holocene ages obtained for the upper two-thirds of the deposit from radiocarbon measurements. We suggest that some grains have older optical ages because they receivedinsufficient exposure to sunlight before burial. The presence of such grains in a sample will cause age overestimates using multiple-grain methods, whether using thermoluminescence or optical dating.