History Assignment – Mungo Man The discoveries at Lake Mungo are potentially the most important discoveries made in Australia, if not the world. The skeletal remains uncovered a world that we know very little about. They gave us an insight to the burial practices of the earliest people for both males and females of the time. The skeletal remains were subject to numerous forms of dating, but primarily radiocarbon dating or C-14 dating. Mungo I also known as Mungo woman or LM1 was the first skeleton to be discovered at the site.
In 1968 geologist Jim Bowler was conducting research on the Willandra Lakes region, more specifically Lake Mungo. His original intention for the site was to study the Pleistocene layers of the area, looking at the ancient geography of the land. However in one of the lunettes (extended, crescent shaped sand ridges) he happened to notice a bone fragment protruding from an exposed calcrete block. Upon closer inspection he realised that it was not animal but human. Bowler marked the site with a peg for further excavation by archaeologists. Similarly in 1974 Jim also discovered Mungo III/LM3, this time dubbed Mungo Man.
His skeleton was discovered after a prolonged period of rain in 1973. The rain has eroded the outer layers of the dirt to reveal a carbonated human skull. These remains were discovered just some 500m from the site of Mungo I. Again marked and excavated later on by archaeologist. Mungo I was the remains of a woman. She was described as a gracile woman, with fine bones and features. She was not found as a whole intact skeleton, rather 175 bone fragments. It was concluded that she was cremated; the charring of the bone fragments supported this theory.
From this primary evidence we can hypothesise that the people of the time believed in the ritual passing of an individual, that the deceased should have a physical recognition of the change between the worldly life and the afterlife. We can also guess that from this they had some sort of belief system. Mungo III is an example of how the people of his time treated the males in the society. Instead of the cremation seen in Mungo Woman, this male, again gracile in appearance was instead buried in the ground. Again there is evidence of a ritual burial in the way he was laid.
His hands were clasped together and red ochre sprinkled over the body. This arrangement of the body again demonstrates a belief in passing to another world by making the body presentable to this other world. There were numerous ways that the remains have been dated. By using the dated layers that the bones were found in and C-14 dating we are able to get a fairly accurate estimate of when these people were buried. Other ways included electron spin resonance dating, uranium-thorium dating, optically stimulated luminescence dating and thermoluminescence dating.
Paleoanthropologists, or people who specialise in studying ancient humans by looking at human fossil primary evidence carried all of these dating methods out. When first discovered in 1968 and 1974 Jim Bowler was able to use his own scientific field of geomorphology. By using the already dated layers that the bones were found in he was able to produce and estimate time of burial. He estimated the bones of LM1 to be around 40,000 years ago and LM3 to around 32,000 years ago.
He was able compare the strata of the area and the two skeletons to come up with these estimations. Archaeologists soon came in in the years following each discovery to uncover the remains. After Archaeologists had removed the bones they were handed over to paleoanthropologists and aboriginal peoples for proper testing. The first and most commonly known dating method that they used on the skeletons was radiocarbon or C-14 dating. The second way that archaeologists were able to date the Lake Mungo remains was by electron spin resonance dating.
Also known as ESR dating, this method of dating the archaeologist/scientist looks to the radiation damage of bones (mostly teeth) by looking at the amount of radiation an object has been subject to whilst under ground. ESR dating works best on animal teeth so even though the results are still plausible it provided a much larger date area. The results reached showed the conclusion that the bones were around 31, 000 years old for Mungo Man give or take 7, 000 years. This of course would bring the reliability of this method down.
Another dating technique they used on the skeletal remains was uranium-thorium dating. Instead of looking at how much of a particular substance is missing uranium-thorium dating records the accumulation of equilibrium between the isotope thorium-230 and its radioactive parent uranium-234. It is useful for determining the age of objects containing calcium carbonate, like bone. This was combined with optically stimulated luminescence dating, where you uncover when the material was last exposed to light to bring an estimate of 62,000 years ago for Mungo III ± 6,000 years.
This caused controversy and confusion though as the surrounding earth was dated only to 43,000 years. This questions the reliability of these results as not all the facts interlink with each other. While individually these dating methods are quite reliable combined they produce relatively farfetched results. Thermoluminescence dating works in a similar way to optically stimulated luminescence dating in that it measures when it was last exposed to light but also when it was last exposed to heat. By using this technique the bones were dated to no more than 24,600 ±2,400 years but no less than 43,300 ±3,800 years ago.
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