Australia in the Before Time

Lake Mungo

Early archaeological sites such as Nauwalabila, Malakunanja, Devil's Lair and Preminghana reveal the longevity of the Aboriginal peoples' existence in Australia. The earliest known site is at Lake Mungo, one of 17 lakes situated within the Willandra Lakes region of southern New South Wales. This dry lake contains stone artefacts, burial sites, animal bones and ochre that date the Aboriginal occupation there to 40,000 years BP when the lake was full, teeming with fish, shellfish and bird life. The surrounding land supported animals, some of which are now extinct, such as giant kangaroos, hairy-nosed wombats and a hippo-like animal called Zygomaturus. There is evidence that Aboriginal peoples, the ancestors of the Barkindji, Ngiyampaa and Mutthi Mutthi, lived along the shores of the lake and were among the first to grind seeds for flour.

In 1969 archaeologists unearthed the bones of a young adult female who later became known as Mungo Lady. The death and cremation of this woman was estimated, through carbon dating, to have occurred between 24,500 and 26,500 years ago. Five years after this find, another skeleton was unearthed, which is thought to be of a man. Scientists can't agree on the age of the man but estimate he died between 30,000 years and 60,000 years ago. Beside archaeological finds of skeletons in Africa, Mungo Man and Mungo Lady are considered the oldest skeletons in the world.

Lake Mungo is one of Australia's most important archaeological sites and it establishes that Aboriginal peoples occupied the continent from 50,000 years BP. In 1974, Jim Bowler uncovered another man whose bones had been painted with red ochre. Ochre does not occur naturally in Lake Mungo so this particular pigment must have been brought into the area from another group.


A snapshot of NaN

  • January
    • The Royal Society approached King George III for financial assistance to fund an expedition to observe the transit of Venus from the South Seas.

  • April
    • The ship HM Bark Endeavour (formerly the Earle of Pembroke) was commissioned by the British Royal Navy Board to undergo a voyage to the South Seas. She was to be captained by Lieutenant James Cook.

  • July
    • Cook was involved with fitting out HM Bark Endeavour while moored in Deptford.

  • August
    • Lieutenant James Cook left Plymouth Harbour for Madeira.

  • November
    • Cook wrote to the Royal Society complaining of the poor treatment he received from the Portuguese viceroy at Rio de Janeiro. The viceroy believed that Cook's real purpose was smuggling or piracy.

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