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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Mungo
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The birth of civilisation?  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.  Footprints were discovered in the lake's surface and have been dated at between 19,000 and 23,000 year old.  Prints are between thirteen and thirty centimetres in length with the latter is the equivalent of a modern size eleven shoe, and indicated a man of around two metres tall.  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.   Mungo man's height has been calculated at 196 centimetres; six foot five inches.   

 

While previous DNA testing did not find a link between Mungo Man and today's Aborigines, recent DNA testing results, released for publication in May 2016, have revealed these previous tests were erroneous, bridging the gap culturally and now physically between the ancient occupants of Mungo and the Aboriginal race. 

A huge white topped crescent shaped sand dune crosses the park, and as it erodes down, ancient sand and clay sculptures, like the sandcastles made by dripping wet sand, are being uncovered by the winds.  Layers of different colours show different ages of sand; red, yellow and grey.  The pink Gol Gol sands at the base of the lunette were laid down between 120,000 and 100,000 years ago during a dry period.  The yellow look of the brownish cream and white sands of the upper and lower Mungo layers are between 60,000 and 37,000 years old and were formed when the lakes were full. The Arumpo/Zanci grey clays which cap the pinnacles were formed 37,000 to 18,000 years ago, during an era when the lakes filled and dried out several times.   The white dune crests have been formed since the lakes finally dried out 14,000 years ago.  Most of the Aboriginal artefacts were discovered in the brownish-cream and grey layers.  The dune is moving eastward at the rapid rate of about three metres per year.

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 artefacts discovered show the Aborigines have inhabited the area for at least the past 40,000 to 45,000 years.  These artefacts include 10,000 year old sandstone grinders which were used for grinding seeds, showing that these people were amongst the first in the world 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), before covering these tracks with sand to keep them preserved. 457 footprints have been found, belonging to adults and children, generally walking in single file.  Prints are between thirteen and thirty centimeters in length.  The latter is the equivalent of a modern size eleven 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 twenty 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.  

The region has seen wet and dry periods.  With lush growth in times long past of plentiful rain, the semi arid area is now generally dry. 

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 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. 

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Denuded by grazing, the sands of the dune are exposing delicate  formations.  Dead vegetation can be seen on these shifting sands. 

Mungo National Park - the birth of civilisation

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Since the closure of freely walking on the lunette, the only way to experience this is on a Ranger guided walk.  You will also be shown artefacts otherwise inaccessible to visitors.  Fees apply in addition to park entry fees.  $35 for adults, $20 children and concession card holders.   Guided walks 10 am -12 pm and 2 pm - 4 pm every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. See details on Aboriginal Discovery Tours 

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