Lake Mungo remains

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Lake Mungo
Satellite map of the Willandra Lakes area.Sites marked with dots are LM1 (red) and LM3 (blue).
Satellite map of the Willandra Lakes area.
Sites marked with dots are LM1 (red) and LM3 (blue).
Location
Lake Mungo remains is located in Australia
Coordinates 33°44′56″S 143°8′8″E / 33.74889°S 143.13556°E / -33.74889; 143.13556Coordinates: 33°44′56″S 143°8′8″E / 33.74889°S 143.13556°E / -33.74889; 143.13556
Period Prehistoric (Pleistocene)
Country  Australia
Region Mungo National Park,
New South Wales

The Lake Mungo remains are three sets of human fossils. They are Lake Mungo 1 (LM1, or Mungo Lady), Lake Mungo 2 (LM2), and Lake Mungo 3 (LM3, or Mungo Man). The sites are located near Lake Mungo, in New South Wales, Australia, in the World Heritage-listed Willandra Lakes Region.[1] Pieces of skeletons have been found in this region. These pieces have been attributed to over forty human skeletons. The Lake Mungo remains are the most significant of these.[2]

LM1 was found in 1969, and is widely considered the oldest known cremation in the world. LM3, found in 1974, are the remains of an early human inhabitant of the Australian continent. His remains are the oldest human remains that have been found in Australia. The exact age of these two fossils has been debated since they were found, with studies giving estimates between 20,000 and 62,000 years. Both of them are now generally considered to have lived around 40,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene epoch.

Mungo Lady (LM1)[change | change source]

LM1 are the fossilised, cremated remains of a young woman. They were found in 1969 by James Bowler with the University of Melbourne.[3] Radiocarbon dating of pieces of bone from the burial put LM1 between 24,700 and 19,030 years old. Charcoal from a hearth 15 cm above the burial was dated at 26,250 years old (plus or minus 1,120 years). Reconstruction and study of the remains was mainly done by Alan Thorne at the Australian National University. The patterns of burn marks on the bones suggest that the body was first burned, then smashed, then burned a second time, before being buried.[4]

Research published by Bowler in 2003 rejected previous estimates for all of remains at the site. Optical dating concluded that both LM1 and LM3 were buried around 40,000 years ago (plus or minus 2,000 years).[5][6] This makes it the earliest evidence of human cremation that has been found.[7][8] It suggests that ancient indigenous Australians in this region had their own complicated burial rituals.[5]

The bones were returned in 1992 to the area's traditional owners: the Paakantji (Barkindji), the Mathi Mathi and the Ngiyampaa. LM1 is now in a locked vault at the Mungo National Park visitor centre.[4]

Mungo Man (LM3)[change | change source]

LM3 was found by James Bowler on 26 February 1974, when shifting sand dunes exposed the remains.[9] It is located 500 m east of the LM1 site. The body was covered with red ochre, in the earliest known example of such a complicated and artistic burial practice. Like the cremation of LM1, this indicates that certain cultural traditions have existed on the Australian continent for much longer than previously thought.[5][10]

Description[change | change source]

Photo of a skeleton lying in a hollowed bed of rock. The skull is on its side, with the legs drawn together ans the hands resting on top of the pelvic bone.
Mungo Man (Lake Mungo 3)

The skeleton was of a slender individual, quite different to the build of modern indigenous Australians.[11] The skeleton was badly preserved: large pieces of the skull were missing, and most of the bones in the limbs were damaged. Usually, the gender of a skeleton is determined using the bones in the skull and the pelvis. The problem is that these bones are in a very bad state in LM3, or they are missing altogether; in other words, the "normal" method of gender determination cannot be used with LM3. Since LM3 was discovered, other features were studied; most of these studies agree that LM3 was probably a male.[12][13][14]

LM3 was buried lying on his back, with his hands joined together covering the groin. Some of the bones show evidence of osteoarthritis and eburnation, and the teeth are well worn. Based on this, it is likely that LM3 was quite old (around 50 years old) when he died.[15] New studies show that, using the length of his limb bones, it is possible to estimate LM3's height at 196 centimetres (77 inches or 6 ft 5 in), unusually tall for an Aboriginal.[10]

Age[change | change source]

The first estimate of LM3's age was made in 1976 by the team of scientists from the Australian National University (ANU) who excavated LM3. They estimated that LM3 was between 28,000 and 32,000 years old.[9] They did not test LM3's remains directly; instead, they made their estimate through stratigraphic comparison with LM1. In 1987, an electron spin resonance test was done on pieces of bone from LM3's skeleton. This gave an estimate of his age at 31,000 years, plus or minus 7,000 years. In 1999, optical dating work was done on quartz from the LM3 burial site. The results indicated a burial older than 24,600 years (± 2,400) and younger than 43,300 years (± 3,800).[16]

Later in the same year, research led by Alan Thorne gave a new estimate of 62,000 years old (plus or minus 6,000 years). This estimate was made by combining data from uranium-thorium dating, electron spin resonance dating and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of the remains and the soil in the grave.[17] This estimate was very controversial,[18][19][20] and some of the techniques used to get this estimate were criticised.[15]

In 2003, several Australian groups came to an agreement that LM3 is about 40,000 years old. A team led by Bowler did 25 more OSL tests that suggested that LM3 can not be older than 50,000 years.[6] This age roughly agrees with stratigraphic evidence using four different dating methods. The age of 40,000 years is now the most widely accepted age for the LM3. This makes it the second oldest human fossil east of India, and the oldest in Australia.[5][10] In addition to this, the study published in 2003 found that LM1 and LM3 are similar in age,[21] and that humans were present at Lake Mungo as early as 50,000 to 46,000 years ago.[5]

How Australia was settled[change | change source]

The main idea at the time is called Out of Africa hypothesis: It says that humans developed on the African continent, and spread from there. Another important site is called Kow Swamp, in the northern part of Victoria. It consists of about twenty skeletons, which are between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. The morphology of Mungo Man is noticeably different from these skeletons. For this reason, some researchers have said that Australia was probably settled twice. The settlers were probably descendants of Homo erectus and came from the Asian mainland. This theory is based on the analysis of Mitochondrial DNA. If this is true, the two lines, that of Mungo Man and that of modern humans, separated a very long time ago. This would also mean that Mitochondrial Eve of this line and that of modern humans would be older than Mitochondrial Eve of all living humans.[22]

References[change | change source]

  1. Barbetti M, Allen H. (1972). "Prehistoric man at Lake Mungo, Australia, by 32,000 years BP.". Nature 240 (5375): 46–8. doi:10.1038/240046a0. PMID 4570638.
  2. Brown, Peter (1987). "Pleistocene homogeneity and Holocene size reduction: the Australian human skeletal evidence" (PDF). Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in Oceania 22: 41-67. http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~pbrown3/Brown%201987%2041-67.pdf.
  3. Bowler, J.M. 1970. Late Quaternary environments: a study of lakes and associated sediments in south-eastern Australia. Doctoral thesis, Australian National University, Canberra
  4. 4.0 4.1 Brown, Peter. "Lake Mungo 1". University of New England. http://www-personal.une.edu.au/~pbrown3/Mungo1.html.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Mayell, Hillary (24 February 2003). "First Humans in Australia Dated to 50,000 Years Ago". National Geographic. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0224_030224_mungoman.html.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Bowler J.M.; Johnston, H.; Olley, J.M.; Prescott, J.R.; Roberts, R.G.; Shawcross, W.; Spooner, N.A. (20 February 2003). "New ages for human occupation and climatic change at Lake Mungo, Australia". Nature 421 (1): 837-840. doi:10.1038/nature01383. PMID 12594511.
  7. Bowler JM, Jones R, Allen H, Thorne AG. (1970). "Pleistocene human remains from Australia: a living site and human cremation from Lake Mungo, Western New South Wales.". World Archaeol. 2 (1): 39–60. doi:10.1080/00438243.1970.9979463. PMID 16468208.
  8. Bowler, J.M. 1971. Pleistocene salinities and climatic change: Evidence from lakes and lunettes in southeastern Australia. In: Mulvaney, D.J. and Golson, J. (eds), Aboriginal Man and Environment in Australia. Canberra: Australian National University Press, pp. 47-65.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bowler, J. M. & Thorne, A. G. (1976). Human remains from Lake Mungo: discovery and excavation of Lake Mungo III. In (R. L. Kirk & A. G. Thorne, Eds) The Origin of the Australians, pp. 127–138. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Mungo Archaeological Digs. Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. 2001.
  11. Thorne, A. G. (1980). The longest link: human evolution in Southeast Asia and the settlement of Australia. In (J. J. Fox, A. G. Garnaut, P. T. McCawley & J. A. C. Maukie, Eds) Indonesia: Australian Perspectives, pp. 35–43. Canberra:Australian National University
  12. Durband, Arthur; Daniel R.T. Rayner, Michael Westaway (July 2009). "A new test of the sex of the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton". Archaeology in Oceania 44 (2): 77–83. http://oceania.metapress.com/content/40431866327877q0/. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  13. Thorne A, Curnoe D. (2000). "Sex and significance of Lake Mungo 3: reply to Brown "Australian pleistocene variation and the sex of Lake Mungo 3".". Journal of Human Evolution 39 (6): 587–600. doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0442. PMID 11102270.
  14. Brown P. (2000). "Australian Pleistocene variation and the sex of Lake Mungo 3.". Journal of Human Evolution 38 (5): 743–9. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0400. PMID 10799264.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Brown, Peter. Lake Mungo 3 University of New England
  16. Oyston, B. (1996). "Thermoluminescence age determinations for the Mungo III human burial, Lake Mungo, southeastern Australia". Quarterly Science Review 15 (7): 739–749. doi:10.1016/0277-3791(96)00025-X.
  17. Thorne A, Grün R, Mortimer G, Spooner NA, Simpson JJ, McCulloch M, Taylor L, Curnoe D. (1999). "Australia's oldest human remains: age of the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton.". Journal of Human Evolution 36 (6): 591–612. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0305. PMID 10330330.
  18. Gillespie R, Roberts RG (2000). "On the reliability of age estimates for human remains at Lake Mungo". J. Of Human Evol. 38 (5): 727–732. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0398. PMID 10799262.
  19. Bowler, JM; Magee, JW (2000). "Redating Australia's oldest human remains: a sceptic's view". Journal of Human Evolution 38 (5): 719–726. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0397. PMID 10799261.
  20. GrüN R, Spooner NA, Thorne A, Mortimer G, Simpson JJ, Mcculloch MT, Taylor L, Curnoe D (2000). "Age of the Lake Mungo 3 skeleton, reply to Bowler & Magee and to Gillespie & Roberts". Journal of Human Evolution 38 (5): 733–741. doi:10.1006/jhev.2000.0399. PMID 10799263.
  21. Olleya JM, Roberts RG, Yoshida H and Bowler JM (2006). "Single-grain optical dating of grave-infill associated with human burials at Lake Mungo, Australia". Quaternary Science Reviews 25 (19-20): 2469–2474. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2005.07.022.
  22. Gregory J. Adcock et al.: Mitochondrial DNA sequences in ancient Australians: Implications for modern human origins. In: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Volume 98, Nr. 2, 2002, pp. 537–542 Full text(PDF) PMID 11209053

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