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A Younger Mungo Man Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by Eric A. Powell

[image] The age of Australia's Mungo Man, found eroding out of a sand dune, has been put at 42,000 years. (James Bowler) [LARGER IMAGE]

Australia's oldest skeleton is now twenty thousand years younger. That's the conclusion of a team that dated sediments near the burial site of Mungo Man, a modern human skeleton first discovered in 1974 on the shore of Australia's ancient Lake Mungo. Controversial uranium dating of the remains in recent years had put their age at around sixty thousand years, which not only pushed back earliest settlement of Australia by millennia, but challenged the view that modern humans first left Africa around fifty thousand years ago--the "Out of Africa" version of modern human origins. Supporters of the idea that humans evolved simultaneously around the Old World pointed to Mungo Man as exhibit A that Homo sapiens did not originate exclusively in Africa.

But new dating of the Mungo site by several different laboratories led by James Bowler, a geologist at the University of Melbourne who first discovered the Mungo Man burial, seems to fit with the Out of Africa scenario. "The consensus was unanimous--Mungo Man was buried about 42,000 years ago," says Bowler.

Painted with red ocher, Mungo Man is the oldest such ritually buried skeleton in the world. Bowler says the survey also revealed that a burial discovered nearby, the oldest known cremation, known as Mungo Lady, is roughly the same age as Mungo Man.

© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America