Mungo: Was the World's earliest civilisation here in Australia?

Thursday, Oct 29, 2009 at 01:00

Motherhen


With the recent opening of the Mungo Loop Drive for the first time this year, it is an opportune time to talk about the wonders of Mungo National Park.

In just one National Park you can visit where Australia’s oldest human remains were discovered, these being the oldest in the world showing signs of a ceremonial burial. They have been dated at 42,000 year old and possibly much older. At this same National Park, evidence of the most recent magnetic polar deviation (Geomagnetic Excursion) which took place some 30,000 years ago and lasted for 2,500 years was discovered. The exposed sands of a crescent shaped dune hold a moonscape of hardened sculptured sand castles. In a World Heritage listed ancient series of lakes, fossils including those of Tasmanian tigers, giant short-faced kangaroos, and the large wombat like Diprotodon were uncovered. Formerly run as a sheep station, all of these features are found in the fascinating Mungo National Park New South Wales, an easy 110 kilometres drive north from Mildura.

History of Mungo

The mystery and aura of this ancient land is sensational. This relatively small area hid mega fauna fossils deposited in the lakes, bones of the earliest known Australian inhabitants were discovered in the crescent shaped sand dune known as a lunette, and from ancient fire beds a previously unknown geomagnetic excursion (magnetic pole reversal) was revealed, and all these discoveries were made in our lifetime.

It is here in the lunette that remains of Mungo man and Mungo woman were found. There is evidence that these bodies were buried with some form of ceremony, making Australia the oldest known ‘culture’ in the world. The ceremonial cremation and shattering of the remaining bones has been seen in relatively recent times in Aboriginal cultures. Ochre, not found within 200 kilometres of Mungo, was used to coat the body of Mungo Man. These events were dated initially at 38,000 years ago, and more recently dated at around 42,000 years ago, with some scientists saying the remains could be as old as 60,000 years.

The World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes date back as far as 150,000 years. Sand ridges developed from sand blown off the beaches of the lakes to form lunettes. Around 60,000 years ago, the lakes were filled as the Willandra Creek which connected them was then the major channel of the Lachlan River heading towards the Murrumbidgee River near Balranald. For the next 40,000 years there was abundant water. The lakes have now been dry for about 14,000 years. As the climate dried, the Lachlan no longer filled the lakes and flowed directly into the Murrumbidgee at a point further to the east.

Aboriginal artifacts discovered show the Aborigines have inhabited the area for at least the past 40,000 to 45,000 years. These artifacts include 10,000 year old sandstone grinders which were used for grinding seeds, showing that these people were amongst the first in the word to grind flour. The stone used was not local and came from at least 100 kilometres away.

In 2003, footprints preserved in the clay of the lakes and covered with sand were revealed. These have been dated at between 19,000 and 23,000 year old, and are the largest area of Pleistocene human footprints in the world. Castings of the footprints were taken to tell the story at The Meeting Place (the new Visitor Centre. 457 footprints have been found, belonging to adults and children, generally walking in single file. Prints are between 13 and 30 centimeters in length. The latter is the equivalent of a modern size 11 shoe, and indicated a man of around two metres tall. One set of tracks has been calculated to have been made by someone running at 20 kilometres per hour. Much speculation has taken place over a set of right foot only prints. Was there a one legged man? Was he hopping or using a stick? Maybe there was shallow water and one foot was in a boat or some type of floatation devise. Examination of the prints indicated he was hopping very fast and keeping up with the others in his group, showing skill at hopping as a long term thing rather than a short term injury or aided by a walking stick.

Over the past 200 years, the area has been grazed as pastoral stations, and remains of station outbuildings and dams to stock water can be seen when taking the loop drive around the park. Much on the denuding of vegetation on the lunette is attributed to the grazing station livestock; however it was the subsequent erosion that led to the amazing discoveries hidden in the lunette. Vigar’s Well was once a Cobb and Co coach stop, and drays crossed the lunette here. Now, with no vegetation to hold the sands, even walking to the top was slow going, and imagining a horse drawn dray crossing these sands was something to marvel at.

Visiting Mungo



Accessing the park is weather dependent, with roads being closed during wet weather. The 70 kilometre loop road around the lunette is particularly subject to water damage and closure. In dry weather the drive is easy, and although a four wheel drive vehicle would be preferable on this narrow sandy track, in most cases it is not necessary to engage four wheel drive. In summer days can be very hot, and in winter, nights very cold, so come prepared according to the season.







The Meeting Place (Visitor Centre) has displays of cultural, geological and fossil history of Mungo and is the place to start your tour. Read how the landscape was formed. Study the history of the lake through the ages. See the history of mega fauna found around Mungo. Learn how the 120 º Geomagnetic Excursion was discovered from the baked earth and clay remaining in ancient fire beds. Find out how the first ceremonial burial known in the world was found here at Mungo. See the recreation of footprints in the clay of the lake bed. Read about the significance of the Mungo area to the Aboriginal people and to the scientific community.

Read more about Mungo and all about our visit to Mungo National Park, complete with lots of photos at 2009 Travelogues and come touring Australia with us via our other travelogues.

Motherhen

Red desert dreaming

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