A new analysis in 2002 of Australia's oldest human
remains suggested that humans arrived on the continent about 50,000
The evidence was based on a re-examination of the
so-called Mungo Man skeleton, which had been unearthed in New South
Wales (NSW) in 1974. Scientists stated that the individual had probably
been buried about 40,000 years ago, when humans had been living in
the area for some 10,000 years.
The data probably came as a relief to palaeontologists
who were supporting the 'Out of Africa' theory. Some had suggested the
skeleton was 60,000 years old, challenging the popular idea that all
people alive today are descended from a group which began to emigrate
from Africa some 100,000 years ago.
Under the 'Out of Africa' hypothesis, ancient people
could not have arrived in Australia before about 50,000 years ago
because their spread across the world from Africa was very slow.
Mungo Man's discoverer, James Bowler of the University
of Melbourne, stated that the 2002 data corrected previous estimates
for the date of human burials at the site. The study by his team showed
that humans were present at Lake Mungo as early as 50-46,000 years ago.
They found no evidence to support claims for human
occupation or burials near 60,000 years ago.
Lake Mungo is one of the most important archaeological
sites in the world.
Two skeletons have been found in the area: 'Mungo I',
the first recorded cremation, dated at about 26,000 years ago, and
'Mungo III', the world's oldest ritual ochre burial, and source of
the world's oldest mitochondrial DNA.
The 2002 analysis was based on the dating of sand
taken from the burial site. An earlier team, led by Alan Thorne, put
the date at 60,000 years ago based on samples taken from a site
farther away. That date has now been discredited while the 50,000
years date has received further confirmation.