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Mungo Man’s remains were taken on their final journey to the ancestral home on the ancient shore of the long-dry Lake Mungo which is 750 kilometres west of Sydney.
Who was Mungo Man? Mungo Man was an Indigenous Australian who lived around 40,000 years ago. He is believed to have been about 50 years old and was 170cm tall.
Mungo Man was first discovered in 1974 by archaeologist, Dr Jim Bowler. 43 years later in November 2017 after having lived in the care of the Australian National University his remains remains were taken on their final journey back to Lake Mungo.
Lake Mungo is one of the several dry lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. At Lake Mungo in the Lake Mungo National Park in New South Wales, the male skeleton of this Indigenous Australian, now known as Mungo Man, lived there thousands of years ago.
The remains of Mungo Man were at the Australian National University for four decades but two years ago the remains were handed back to the traditional owners.
In the spirit of Reconciliation the university apologised to the traditional owners for the pain that was caused as a result of his removal from his ancestral country.
The journey from Canberra back to Lake Mungo with the remains of Mungo Man in a black hearse took three days.
A welcome home ceremony hosted by the traditional owners was held at Lake Mungo with hundreds of people celebrating the historic return.
The thing that intrigued the prehistorians was that Mungo Man’s skeleton had been covered in ochre and that this ochre had been transported from more than 200 kilometres away.
The ochre implied that this ancient people practised some form of religion because Mungo Man had received a burial ritual.
Pigments such as ochre tell us a lot about the past. Not only does the ochre found on the ancient corpses indicate that there was some form of religious ritual practised all those years ago but it shows that it was used for art – cave painting, decoration of objects, and body painting.
So what was happening over 40,000 years ago is a continuous culture and is still happening today.
A female skeleton was also found at Lake Mungo. Known as Mungo Lady, she has also been dated the same age as the male skeleton and is the oldest cremated human remains that has been found to date.
This was some of the earliest evidence of burial ritual in the world.
The return of the iconic Mungo Man back to his country provides closure and is a step towards Reconciliation.
Hill, Marji First People Then And Now: Introducing Indigenous Australians. Gold Coast, Qld, The Prison Tree Press, 2017