Working out how old archaeological remains are is a vital part of archaeology. Scientific dating has confirmed the long residence of Aboriginal people in Australia. A number of methods are used, all of which have their advantages, limitations and level of accuracy. Complex dating problems often use a variety of techniques and information to arrive at the best answer.
New dates from an important archaeological site in Australia have removed a serious challenge to a theory about the origin of modern humans. The site is Lake Mungo, in southeastern Australia, which holds the remains of an adult man who was sprinkled with copious amounts of red ocher in a burial ritual common among early humans. The grave is testimony to the remarkable journey taken by the first modern people to leave the ancestral human birthplace in Africa. But the Lake Mungo grave also has posed a problem. Dated in as being 62, years old, it was hard to reconcile with the fact that the first modern humans did not reach Europe, which is much closer to Africa, until about 40, years ago. It also challenged a view held by some archaeologists and geneticists that modern humans acquired the ability to move out of Africa only 50, years ago.
Lake Mungo is the name of a dry lake basin which includes several archaeological sites, including human skeletal remains from the oldest known individual in Australia, who died at least 40, years ago. Lake Mungo is one of five major small dry lakes in Willandra Lakes, and it is in the central portion of the system. When it contained water, it was filled by overflow from the adjacent Lake Leagher; all of the lakes in this area are dependent on inflow from Willandra Creek. The deposit in which the archaeological sites lie is a transverse lunette, a crescent-shaped dune deposit which is 30 km
For 40, years, human remnants remained buried in the sand at Lake Mungo, hidden by the changed landscape. Tens of thousands of years ago, the desert landscape, named Lake Mungo, was filled by lakes. Since then, the territory has been as it now appears—dry, dusty, semi-arid terrain. At the same time, this kind of geological vanishing act makes it challenging to understand the history of human evolution; nothing ever stays the same.