Lake Mungo is a dry lake in south-western New South Wales, Australia. It is located about 760 km due west of Sydney1 and 90 km north-east of Mildura. The lake is the central feature of Mungo National Park, and is one of seventeen lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. Many important archaeological findings have been made at the lake, most significantly the discovery of the remains of Mungo Man, the oldest human remains found in Australia2, and Mungo Lady, the oldest human remains in the world to be ritually cremated.
Sedimens at Lake Mungo have been deposited over more than 100,000 years. On the eastern shore of the lake are the ‘Walls of China’, a 26 km long series of lunettes, about thirty metres high, formed over thousands of years. There are three distinct layers of sands and soil forming the Walls. The oldest is the reddish Gol Gol layer, formed between 100,000 and 120,000 years ago. The middle greyish layer is the Mungo layer, deposited between 50,000 and 25,000 years ago. The most recent is the Zanci layer, which is pale brown, and was laid down mostly between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago.
The most important findings at Lake Mungo have been Mungo Man and Mungo Lady. Mungo Lady, a partially cremated body, was discovered in 1969 by Dr Jim Bowler from the Australian National University (ANU). She was initially estimated to be 25,000 years old, although a more recent multi-university study in 2003 determined that she was more like 40,000 years old. Mungo Lady is thus the earliest known human to have been cremated. Mungo Man was also discovered by Dr Bowler, on 26 February 1974. The remains were covered with red ochre, in what is the earliest known incidence of such a burial practice. Although some studies have estimated his age at more than 60,000 years, the current consensus is that he is also about 40,000 years old.
There is evidence of human habitation of the area around Lake Mungo that is as much as 50,000 years old. Stone tools have been found in the dunes which are older than the Mungo Man. Grinders for making flour have been found which are estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old; they were made of sandstone sourced from the Murray River basin 100 km away. A stone axe head, estimated to be at least 500 years old, was also found in the dunes; it was made from stone from Mount Camel, near Shepparton, well over 300 km away.