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12 December 2003
Lemdubu Woman: when Indonesia was part of Australia

Back when Indonesia was part of Australia, a young woman left treasure in a cave. She was tall and strong and in her late 20s when she died about 18,000 years ago. Her teeth were not worn down, so she had probably enjoyed a diet of wallaby and other animals rather than chewing on tough plants. And from the unusual holes in some of her bones, it is possible that cancerous growths contributed to her early demise.
     Named after the limestone cave where she was found, Lemdubu Woman and her burial site provide a unique insight into life in the north of the continent during the last glacial maximum, when Australia was much colder and drier. Her skeleton has now been studied in more detail than any other remains from this period.
     A Canberra archaeologist, Dr Susan O'Connor discovered the skeleton several years ago with colleagues Professor Matthew Spriggs, of the Australian National University, and Associate Professor Peter Veth, of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Back in Australia the 394 fragments of skeleton were painstakingly pieced together by an ANU researcher, Dr David Bulbeck.
     The use of the cave site has been dated as stretching from about 27,000 to 12,000 years ago, with the burial site dated at 18,000 to 16,000 years ago. Lemdubu Woman had long limbs and probably stood about 166 centimetres tall. But her limb bones were also thick. "She would seem to have been a very strong woman, notwithstanding her athletic linear build," he says.
     During the last glacial maximum, in the Willandra region of NSW people flocked to the fish-filled, snow-fed lakes. This is where Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, Australia's oldest-known human remains, were ceremonially buried 40,000 years ago. But by 18,000 years ago Lake Mungo had become the dry dusty hole we know today. In the northern part of Sahulland, however, Lemdubu Woman was feasting on wallaby.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (10 December 2003)

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