Mungo Archaeological Digs

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Evidence of Ancient Human Habitation Dating back over 40,000 Years

The remains of Mungo Man, believed to be more than 40,000 years old. Photo: Jim Bowler.

World Heritage listed Lake Mungo is unique in both visible land formations and archaeological significance. Before the lake dried out some 18,000 years ago, Aboriginal people lived on the shores of the lake.

Traces of human occupancy - camp hearths, food remains, their clay-pan workshops - and skeletons of now extinct creatures such as the Tasmanian Tiger can still be found in the slowly eroding sand dunes of its shores.

Following the discovery of some of the oldest remains of modern humans on earth, Lake Mungo became one of the world’s most significant archaeological sites.

Mungo Lady & Mungo Man

In 1969, on the shores of the ancient and now dry Lake Mungo, Australian archaeologists discoverd the remains of the oldest known human to have been ritually cremated. They found bone fragments belonging to the skeleton of a young woman, who became known as Mungo Lady or LM1. She is now believed to have lived and died some 40,000 years ago.

Five years later, in close proximity to Mungo Lady, shifting sand dunes exposed the remains of a Mungo Man or LM3. It is estimated that this male was buried about 42,000 years ago. Mungo Man is the oldest skeleton buried using red ochre, a material which could only have reached the shores of Lake Mungo by trade. This is the earliest known example of such a sophistocated and artistic burial practice.

Based on evidence of osteoarthritis in the lumbar vertebrae and severe wear on the teeth, scientists consider it likely that Mungo Man was quite old when he died. New studies also show that using the length of his limb bones, it is possible to estimate his height at an abnormally tall 196 cm (6 ft 5 in).

The remains of these modern people document the longest human habitation of one area outside Africa.

Evidence for the Shifting of the World's North-South Axis

Baked sediments from uneroded fireplaces also reveal another phenomenon known as the 'Mungo excursion'. They record the direction of the earth's magnetic field at the time the fire was in use, proving that about 31,000 years ago, the north-south axis moved 120 degrees from its present position and returned again over several thousand years.

The Foundation's Involvement

The Foundation supported the creation of World Heritage listed Mungo National Park through land purchase, the funding of the visitor centre and the funding of a resident archaeologist to continue study into the world of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man.

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