Artefacts that have been discovered in the area reflect the land use in ancient times. The preservation of these artefacts and the discovery of them is tied to the geography of the land. Viewers will see that one of the aims of the protection of the site is the preservation of these artefacts.

Ancient people (6:48)

Episode 6 – Ancient people

Warning – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following video may contain images and voices of deceased persons.

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Lake Mungo and the surrounding Willandra Lakes region bare testimony to a past civilization.

[Screen reads: Question? What does the evidence from Mungo tell us about ancient Mungo life]

Indigenous people have lived in the region for at least 50,000 years.

Harvey Johnston – Archaeologist, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage

Clearly, they were moving around the landscape. They were eating the foods that I've described. We know that they'll bring stone artefacts in from other parts of the region, and perhaps the much broader ridge, it's a hundred, 200 kilometres. Time is broadened it.

We know here in this area, people are even using stone axes that came from quarries in Victoria. So, they're trading and exchanging those materials from the south, and they're also bringing in grinding stones from the north.

There's hard rock quarries here at Mungo as well, where they could make their own artefacts. And we've had some demonstrations today. Stone knapping, people were knapping stone from the natural outcrops here at Mungo.

Ivan Johnston – Discovery Ranger, Mungo National Park

There is a quarry in that direction. Where they, were ancestors would have made all these stone tools. You cannot make a stone tool using the same material. so, what they would have had to do was trade in another stone tool, or a hard rock. And that's the only way they can knap it.

[Screen reads: Fact. Knapping is the act of shaping stone into tools or weapons using other stronger stones]


The artefacts or remains have been found preserved in sediments dating back 40,000 years.


They would have traded cloaks, stone tools, hardwood, all your spears would have come from a different area. Cloaks is made out of kangaroo skin, possum skin as well. At the time too, there would have been giant wombats, so, they would have used them cloaks too as well


In 2003, nearly 460 fossilized human footprints were discovered. the largest collection of its kind in the world. The prints were made by children, adolescents, and adults, 19,000 to 23,000 years ago in wet clay. The clay containing calcium carbonate hardened like concrete and a layer of clay and sand protected the prints.

When archaeologists first studied the fossilized footprints, they observed some interesting characteristics. National Parks Discovery Rangers shared with us a story relating to the footprints.


There was a young lady by the name of Mary Pepin, Jr. She was doin' some survey in that area, she came across the footprints on a clay pan. She went back and told the area manager that, "Can you come out and have a look at these tracks?" Because it was near a station, they said, "Well, maybe it could be station playin cricket on the clay pan." She said, "No, there's too many foot tracks. And they were bare feet."

So, the elders went out with them. They checked the footprints. The old people, they knew that these were very old footprints. So, what they done they invited trackers from the desert area and they came out and had a look at it. And they said, "This is greenton."

So, there was a group of women and children. They were walking in one direction and they said that there was a lady with a baby on her hip walking in one direction because of the weight on the side. It was lighter this side. She turned the baby over further in the track way.

And also, one of the kid must have mucked up with the thought mum was going to eat it. She took off around, she met them further down the trackway. They also was a group of men. There was also one person with one leg. Chased after this kangaroo. Did wonder now, what kind of man with one-foot chase kangaroo, but then they noticed a little thing gone along a little hole goin’ along. So, this person would have had a hook, just like crutches and hold himself up and he's runnin' at the same time.

So, the group of men chased this kangaroo. You could actually see where the fellow musta thrown the spear, of the stance of the run, that spear missed the kangaroo, you could see where it's get it skidded in the ground. They run up, picked that spear up. You could actually see the knuckle part where he dug his hand in for the spear, and he must've thrown it and got the kangaroo. The kangaroo actually fell, you could see where he fell, so, they must've walked up, got the spear out, chuck it on the shoulder and kept on moving.


Another theory is that the man may have had a canoe. And if there was shallow water across the surface of the mud, this man would be skimming the canoe along the surface. This would result in a single print left in the mud.


so, they tracked it over 430 tracks. And I think there's more because there's more covered over from the sand. So, you just get all these, you can see all these tracks going in one direction, and then you got the big sand dune. They cover the rest.

Jo Gorman – Area Manager, Lower Darling NSW National Parks and Wildlife

The Mungo Trackway is a really important site. The whole part of planning for the future of that site was with the Aboriginal groups and their knowledge was applied. And working together to have that site protected and then interpreted for the community in the way that this group wanted it interpreted.


During the last ice age, when the lakes were full, the Mungo people camped along the lake shore. Taking advantage of a wide range of food, including freshwater mussels, yabbies, golden perch and Murray Cod. Large emus and a variety of marsupials, which probably included the now extinct giant kangaroos. They also exploited plant resources.


Around the edge, they would have been growin' cavania reeds. You pull the middle stem out, and you cut below and you can eat that. You can eat it raw, or you can cook it in ash. And these cavania reeds, you can make baskets out of um, billy bags, and also fish traps out of these cavania reeds.

Just there, see where the bushes there. Couple of years ago that become more routed. And we actually found a fish tail with mud. They must've cooked a fish here. Ancestors would have cooked that fish simple. We know they got scales on um. They'd smother fish over with mud, thick mud and put it on a hot coals, covered it over. And when that mud dries up, it splits. And that's where the steam come out. So, you know that it's cooked. So, they'd put it off the coal and then let it cool down a bit, and what they do then, they peel that mud back and all the skin and the scale come off in one go. And this is something that the archaeologists gonna come in and check out, they're gonna do a bit of testing on that.

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List of sources and acknowledgements

  • Image: Recreation of Lake Mungo. Provided by Giovanni Caselli

  • Image: Recreation of mega fauna. Provided by ©Australian Postal Corporation 2008. Designer: Peter Trusler.

  • Image: Stone artefacts from the Pleistocene living site. Image retrieved from Pleistocene Human Remains from Australia: A Living site and human cremation from Lake Mungo, Western New South Wales.

  • Image: Stone axe. Retrieved from

  • Image: Grinding stone. Retrieved from

  • Image: Shell artefact. Image retrieved from Pleistocene Human Remains from Australia: A Living site and human cremation from Lake Mungo, Western New South Wales.

  • Image series: Mungo Track-way site. Provided by Matthew Cupper

  • Image: Mungo track-way site map and section map. Map and section provided by Matthew Cupper, Steven Webb. Source of human figures by Giovanni Caselli

  • Narration. Voice over by Melissa Ellis, Southern Cross School of Distance Education.


NSW Government Public Schools, Learning Systems, DART connections, Southern Cross School of Education. Virtual Excursions 2017.

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