Lake Mungo (Australia)

Presently the main attraction of the Mungo National Park, described the landscape as being stark, silent, desolate and often eerie sand sparse only resurgent vegetation and the spiny hard pitted crinkled and fluted dunes and ridges can look like a moonscape. (Cited by K.K. Hirst, The lakes dried up around 14 000 years ago and are considered to be an extraordinarily rich source of fossils. The quality and quantity of evidence pertaining to the landforms, animal life and environmental conditions during the last ice age are of the highest calibre, in part due to the alkaline rather than acidic quality of the soils. Discovered in the 1960s, the site has been excavated by geomorphologists and archaeologists to establish both the chronological and geologic age and status of its deposits. The remains of extinct creatures such as. Tasmanian tigers, giant, short-faced kangaroos and a strange oxen-sized animal called a zygomaturus – have been found. Crucially, carbon dating has indicated that Aborigines inhabited the area 40 000 years ago, making it the site of the oldest known human occupation in Australia. These inhabitants benefited from the lake significantly. Freshwater shellfish and other aquatic fauna inhabited the lake, and many large trees grew around its margins. outlines of their branching roots have been fossilized and preserved by calcium carbonate. Waves driven by the westerly wind created a crescent-shaped sandy beach (a lunette) on the eastern lee shore. This dune consists of the Zanci, Arumpo, Mungo and ‘golgol’ units, named after local pastoral properties. Inhabitants gathered mussels, Murray cod and golden perch from the lake compared to wallabies, rat kangaroos and emu eggs that they collected from their surroundings. The diet of the hunter-gatherers at Lake Mungo was varied and rich in protein. They ate the western native cat, the brown-haired wallaby, the hairy-nosed wombat and various other small animals and bird. Remains of these creatures have been found in ancient fireplaces, together with numerous broken emu shells. Their presence indicates that people were camping at Lake Mungo in the spring, when emu eggs hatch. In the heat of summer, people would have stayed close to the plentiful fresh water and shellfish of the lakes. In the cooler winter, they probably spread out away from the lakes onto the arid plains and hunted land animals, thus conserving the lake’s food supplies for the harsh summers. Such a pattern of exploitation and seasonal movement is characteristic of Aborigines in arid regions, and was observed in the Willandra Lakes region in the nineteenth century. ( The number, size and species of fish remains in sites have been identified by comparing their otoliths, or ear bones, with those of modern fish in the same region. Seventy per cent of fish caught in the Pleistocene Willandra Lakes were golden perch (Petroplites ambiguus). The large numbers of perch at the sites, which dated between 22 000 and 26 000 BP and were each believed to result from a single event, from tightly restricted size ranges, which strongly suggests the use of gill nets at some sites and traps at others. Fishing with fixed gill nets is a highly selective process: it tends to catch fish of the same species and age. Nets were probably set at the time of a spring spawning run, when the fish migrate up the rivers in large numbers. Golden perch are difficult to catch