|16 July 2011
Tracing back the history of human evolution at Mungo
A project is currently underway at Lake Mungo, Australia, one of the oldest places outside of Africa to have been occupied by modern humans, to research the history of human settlement, past environmental change and the landscape evolution that has occurred in the area. In the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area the work involves tracing back the history of human settlement no less than 45,000 years.
Lake Mungo is the site of the world's oldest known cremation and ritual ochre burial as well as having the longest trail of ancient human footprints known, but surprisingly little is known about the people who lived here. Enter La Trobe University's palaeolithic archaeologist, Dr Nicola Stern. "There's an untold story at Mungo; Mungo is famous because of Mungo Lady, Mungo Man; a trail of fossil footprints," says Dr Stern. "We know surprisingly little about how people actually lived in this landscape over 45,000 years - and that's really what I'm trying to document by looking at the archaeological traces in the Mungo lunette."
The Mungo lunettes are half-moon shaped sand dunes built from ancient layers of the earth's surface which form the 'Walls of China' - a major enticement for visitors. Containing rich deposits of information, the lunettes have preserved hundreds of rare, snapshot images of Australia's earliest history and provide a unique record of the ways in which the first settlers may have adapted to the changes to their climate over time.
It is not only the scientific community who have longed for this work to be done; elders from the region's Aboriginal tribal groups are also supportive of the project and are working in collaboration with Dr Stern's team to monitor it. "Finding out what's there, and then monitoring what's happening to what's there, is something that the elders tell me they have wanted for a very long period of time," says Dr. Stern. There is a loyal team of around 20 others working with her and there will be more to come on board in the future. "Over time we will be training people and hope that they will pick this up and carry it on into the future."
Edited from ABC (14 July 2011)
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