A geologist studying the ancient lake sediments of Lake Mungo in 1969 discovered the ancient remains of a woman and then the remains of a man, which experts refer to as Lady Mungo and Mungo man. In this episode students will see how these experts (including scientists and historians) carried out tests to date the age of the remains, and some of the debates and discussions that arose about the discoveries.
Lady Mungo and Mungo Man (3:50)
Warning – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following video may contain images and voices of deceased persons.
(gleeful piano music)
Ivan – [Ivan Johnston, Discovery Ranger, Mungo National Park] In that direction there were the white wall is That's the area where they found Mungo man Mungo woman. They carbon-dated Mungo lady to be 42,000 years old 42 to 45 thousand years old two years later he came back and that's where he found Munga man.
Narrator – In 1969 professor Jim Bowler from the University of Melbourne was studying the ancient lake sediments when he found the remains of a young female who had been cremated Mungo lady. Initially dated 20,000 to 26,000 years ago. These remains were then the oldest in Australia.
Five years later, and just 300 metres away, he uncovered the complete skeleton of a man who had received a ceremonial burial Mungo, man. This discovery confirmed what indigenous people had always known that they had a long and complex relationship with the land.
Dating the remains proved to be a problematic and controversial task. Estimates were between 30,000 and 62,000 years ago. The debate was finally settled in 2003 when a collaboration between three universities and the CSIRO dated both Mungo man and Mungo lady at roughly 40,000 years old with additional artefacts pointing to human occupation of the area as far back as 50,000 years ago.
The scientists use techniques such as radiometric dating, mitochondrial DNA dating and electron spin resonance testing to estimate the age of the remains. Professor Mike Morwood, formerly an Archaeologist at the University of Wollongong, said the discovery changed the whole tenor of Australian archaeology, which was now on the world stage.
Harvey – [Harvey Johnston, Archaeologist, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage] Until the discoveries of Mungo the oldest site that was known, in Australia, was a rock shelter in central Queensland. It dated to about 18,000 years ago, but along came Mungo woman and Mungo man and suddenly the whole story changed from just there's elements of rock to the whole human history.
Narrator – Mungo lady and Mungo man are some of the oldest remains of modern humans ever discovered outside of Africa. It was previously assumed that Australia had been settled by humans only in the past few thousand years or less. But the Mungo remain showed that Australia had been inhabited by humans for longer, even than the Americas.
Ross – [Ross O Shea, Principal consultant, Mundi Consulting Services] These burials revolutionised the whole thinking of the evolution of modern humans out of Africa theory and rewritten all the textbooks which I think is, is wonderful and it's one of the really special things about this place. And one of the sadness’s I have about this place is how few people know that.
Narrator – The scientific evidence shows that Aboriginal people have lived at Mungo for at least 45,000 years but many Aboriginal people say they have been here even longer reaching back into the dream time, perhaps forever.
List of sources and acknowledgements
Image: Jim Bowler. Provided by Jim Bowler
Image: Sediment layer section. Source image provided by Jim Bowler
Image: Sediment layer pan. Source image provided by Jim Bowler
Image: Skull of Mungo lady. Retrieved from http://www.donsmaps.com
Image: Recreation of Lake Mungo. Provided by Giovanni Caselli
Image series: Excavations of Mungo Man. Provided by Jim Bowler
Image: Elders on the dune. Provided by Dan Rosendahl
Image: Timeline of Lake Mungo human occupation. Retrieved from http://www.donsmaps.com Human figures by Giovanni Caselli
Image: Human remains. Provided by Jim Bowler
Image: Test results. Figures from papers: Willandra Lakes revisited environmental framework for human occupation and single-grain optical dating of grave-infill associated with human burials at Lake Mungo, Australia
Image: Michael Moorwood. Provided by Loren Coleman
Image: Keniff cave excavations. Retrieved from Museum of Queensland. Http://www.qm.qld.gov.au
Image: Human migration routes. Provided by National Geographic partners, retrieved from https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/human-journey
Narration: Voice over by Amanda Ritchie, Southern Cross School of Distance Education.
NSW Government Public Schools, Learning Systems, DART connections, Southern Cross School of Education. Virtual Excursions 2017.
[End of transcript]