A new analysis of Australia's oldest human remains suggests
humans arrived on the continent about 50,000 years ago.
The evidence is based on a re-examination of the so-called Mungo
Man skeleton, unearthed in New South Wales (NSW) in 1974. Scientists
say the individual was probably buried about 40,000 years ago, when
humans had been living in the area for some 10,000 years.
The data will come as a relief to palaeontologists who support
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 that 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, says the new data corrects previous estimates for the
date of human burials at the site. "Our study shows that humans were
present at Lake Mungo as early as 50-46,000 years ago," he said.
"We find 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
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 new analysis is 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 further away.