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11 December 2003
Ritual burials excavated in Australia

Aboriginal elders in the Willandra Lakes region of New South Wales, Australia, have lifted a 20-year moratorium, allowing scientists to excavate and study newly-discovered human remains. The ban was imposed in the early 1980s by the Barkandji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa tribes following the removal without permission of hundreds of skeletons by scientists.
     The two male burials were discovered in sand dunes, after wind had exposed them, by Aboriginal elders making a routine inspection of the area. The two bodies were of stocky build, with prominent brow ridges, and are thought to date from 18,000 years ago. One of the bodies appeared to have been buried in a sitting position on top of an extinguished fire - a kind of burial not previously seen before.
     Steve Webb, a professor of Australian studies at Bond University, said "The Willandra area is an extremely important cultural and scientific area. It will teach us an enormous amount about the history, culture and lifestyle of Australia's oldest peoples."
     In 1969 and 1974, Mungo Lady and Mungo Man were discovered at Lake Mungo in the Willandra region. Dated at 40,000 years old, they are Australia's oldest human remains. They are also the world's oldest ritual burials - Mungo Lady is the earliest known cremation, while Mungo Man is the earliest known ritual burial using ochre.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (6 December 2003)

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