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The expedition

The expedition

What

A 300-kilometre journey into the remote southern Simpson Desert to search for mega fauna fossils and evidence of human settlement.

Where

The Kallakoopah, an ancient dry river bed in the Simpson Desert, near Lake Eyre in South Australia. The Simpson Desert covers an area of 170,000 square kilometres and lies across three Australian states: South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Dr Mike Smith in the desert
Mike Smith

 

The expedition team met in Adelaide and travelled two days by four-wheel-drive, along the Birdsville Track, to Kalamurina station.

The party then travelled along the Warburton River south of Lake Peera, heading north to the Kallakoopah.

The party followed the Kallakoopah to its northern most point, then southeast back towards the Warburton.

Trace their journey on the expedition map.

When

26 June to 21 July 2007

Who

The expedition party was comprised of the National Museum's veteran desert archaeologist Dr Mike Smith, four cameleers who also doubled as camp cooks, two biologists from the Department of Environment and Heritage in South Australia and several paying guests.

Camels in the desert packed with various supplies
The camel team. Photo: Mike Smith.

Why

The Kallakoopah area is a rich source of fossils dating back more than 65,000 years. These include diprotodons, giant crocodiles, barramundi, marsupial lions and freshwater turtles, which point to a place that Mike said was once 'a well-watered, Serengeti-style savannah'. He was looking for a window on Australia just before people arrived.

Mike was also interested in finding evidence of people present during the last ice age, possibly just before this part of the desert died and the mega fauna disappeared. Eroded sand dunes not far from the area have revealed old Aboriginal camp sites, with the remains of fireplaces, baked clay used for cooking, stone tools, shell and animal bone.

How

Up to 17 camels carried the expedition party and their gear into ancient river beds and waterholes and over a series of yellow clayey sand dunes about 10 to 15 metres high. Recent rain in Queensland had worked its way down into the area, bringing much needed water.

The camels covered about three kilometres an hour and were capable of spending up to 23 days in the desert without water. They walked about five hours each day and each night's campsite was chosen to ensure they had enough feed. The camels were hobbled overnight and took about 90 minutes to load each morning. Mike, like all expedition party members, contributed to the running of the campsite and caring for the camels.

He stayed in touch throughout the journey using a satellite phone to record reports for his audio blog. 'For once, my wife and family will know exactly where I am,' he said before he left. Mike stored the phone and a solar charger unit in an old metal biscuit tin.

Satellite phone and solar panel charger
Satellite phone and solar panel charger.