Caution: This website may include images and names of deceased people that may cause distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Footsteps in time
Lake Mungo is home to the earliest modern human remains found in Australia, and possibly the world. Mungo Man had been buried and covered with red ochre. Mungo Lady was cremated more than 40,000 years ago. It is also one of the richest fossil footprint sites ever found.
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A 20,000-year-old footprint from the ancient shore of Lake Mungo. Photo: Michael Amendolia.
A group of people left footprints in the clay along the edge of Lake Mungo in the last ice age. Normally, footprints would be washed away by water, eroded by wind or rain, or walked over by other people or animals. On this rare occasion, a layer of sand blew over the clay, preserving the footprints as the clay dried and hardened.
Archaeologist John Mulvaney
Archaeologist John Mulvaney (far right), pictured working at Lake Mungo in the early 1970s. National Archives of Australia, A6180,23/8/74/3.
Apart from local Indigenous knowledge, much of what we know about Lake Mungo comes from research by archaeologists who study ancient bones, stone tools, fireplaces and middens found in the area. Professor Mulvaney is known as the father of Australian archaeology. He helped identify human remains found at Lake Mungo by geologist Jim Bowler.
The suitcase used by archaeologist John Mulvaney to transport the remains of Mungo Lady to Canberra in 1969. The remains were at risk of being destroyed by sheep grazing at the lake. National Museum of Australia. Photo: Jason McCarthy.
Returning ancestral remains to their country is important for local Aboriginal communities. The remains of Mungo Lady were returned in 1992. Mungo Man's remains, taken to the Australian National University in Canberra to be studied in the 1970s, are still awaiting their return.
Primary source study: John Mulvaney's suitcase