Saturday, July 5, 2014

The magic of Mungo

One of the main draw cards of holding the Australasian Quaternary Association conference in Mildura was the chance to visit the Willandra Lakes and in particular the World Heritage Area of Lake Mungo. The trip was very special as we were accompanied by several elders representing the traditional owners of the land and the scientists that have been uncovering the discoveries of the area and as a result we were allowed to go to areas that are out of bounds for the tourists. As a result we ended up with over 100 people and a large convoy of vehicles.
The convoy

We started with a special smoking ceremony at the visitor centre and meeting place. We then headed to Joulni – the area where the burials of Mungo man and woman were uncovered by the erosion of the sand dunes by wind and rain. These were found by Jim Bowler and have been dated to around 40,000 years. We then headed to an ongoing archaeological  excavation by Nikki Stern’s group. They are very carefully excavating some hearths to see what the aboriginals were eating – a mixture of fish and small vertebrates. The sedimentological context of all these archaeological sites have also been studied to provide the age and the environmental conditions. We also visited the footprints that were discovered in 2005.
The smoking ceremony

Joulni - the location of the first stake is where Mungo Man was uncovered
The ongoing archaeological dig, excavating some hearths to find out what aboriginals ate 20,000 years ago

The site of the footprints from 20,000 years ago, now covered to protect it from erosion

I visited Mungo about 10 years ago, and it was very different this time as it was a lot more lush and green - although the lakes are still dry! It was great to see all the new work going on in the area, expanding the original story and making more sense of the aboriginal occupation of the area when the lakes were full or fluctuating.

It is quite a beautiful and fascinating place - I highly recommend a visit. It is clearly a very special place for Australians and I am sure it will increase in its importance with the new archaeological finds and paleo-climatological studies. 
Some of the residuals of the lunette over looking "lake" Mungo

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