Daily Archives: January 13, 2009

Willandra Lakes Region

Posted by on January 13, 2009

World Heritage Site #30: Willandra Lakes Region

Willandra Lakes Region: My 31st UNESCO World Heritage Site

From the World Heritage inscription for the Willandra Lakes Region:

The Willandra Lakes Region, in the semi-arid zone in southwest New South Wales (NSW), contains a relict lake system whose sediments, geomorphology and soils contain an outstanding record of a low-altitude, non-glaciated Pleistocene landscape. It also contains an outstanding record of the glacial-interglacial climatic oscillations of the late Pleistocene, particularly over the last 100,000 years. Ceasing to function as a lake ecosystem some 18,500 years ago, Willandra Lakes provides excellent conditions to document life in the Pleistocene epoch, the period when humans evolved into their present form.

The undisturbed stratigraphic context provides outstanding evidence for the economic life of Homo sapiens sapiens to be reconstructed. Archaeological remains such as hearths, stone tools, and shell middens show a remarkable adaptation to local resources and a fascinating interaction between human culture and the changing natural environment. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

Willandra contains some of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens outside Africa. The evidence of occupation deposits establishes that humans had dispersed as far as Australia by 42,000 years ago. Sites also illustrate human burials that are of great antiquity, such as a cremation dating to around 40,000 years BP, the oldest ritual cremation site in the world, and traces of complex plant-food gathering systems that date back before 18,000 years BP associated with grindstones to produce flour from wild grass seeds, at much the same time as their use in the Middle East. Pigments were transported to these lakeshores before 42,000 years BP. Evidence from this region has allowed the typology of early Australian stone tools to be defined.

Since inscription, the discovery of the human fossil trackways, aged between 19,000 and 23,000 years BP, have added to the understanding of how early humans interacted with their environment.

If the Royal Exhibition Building was the most disappointing World Heritage site, then Mungo National Park in the Willandra Lakes Region was one of the most surprising. I really had no idea what to expect when I visited Mungo because it isn’t one of the more popular tourist destinations in Australia. It is out of the way located in the corner of NSW where it meets Victoria and South Australia.

It is about an hour drive from Mildura, Victoria through an unpaved desert. When I was there the temperature was 40C (104F) in the sun. The flies were terrible but disappeared once the sun went below the horizon. Our guide for the day was Graham Clarke, who was an aboriginal from the area who actually quasi-famous. He was the outback spokesperson of the year and I’ve seen him on some TV commercials for Australia.

Mungo is a dried lake bed, which used to be a watering hole during the last ice age. It was also a camp for human beings about 20-40,000 years ago. It is some of the earliest fossil evidence of modern homo Saipan. They have also found some evidence of ritual human cremation.

Just walking around we were able to find the bones of wombats in the sand that were tens of thousands of years old.

If you ever get the chance, take the time to visit Mungo National Park.


View the complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Australia.

View the list of all of the UNESCO World Heritage sites I have visited on my travels.

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