Discovery of a lifetime

GEOLOGIST Jim Bowler grew up in Leongatha, played football in the town and worked on his family’s farm for 10 years before moving to attend university.

While working for Australian National University (ANU) in western New South Wales, Dr Bowler made a discovery that changed the views about the period of human habitation of Australia.

In 1968, he uncovered the cremated remains of a young lady, which were confirmed as human remains in 1969.

In 1974, Dr Bowler found the remains of another humanoid, who would become known as Mungo Man.

The discoveries are the oldest evidence of modern human existence in the world.

“At that stage there was a big debate going on that some of the early human remains looked much older,” Dr Bowler said.

Some of these early discoveries were made by Murray Black, who was from Tarwin Lower.

Mr Black’s father, George, was one of the original settlers in Tarwin Meadows.

“Murray Black spent his time collecting aboriginal skeletons. I interviewed him in about 1960 and he gave me maps of ancient burials he had found, but I never followed them up,” Dr Bowler said.

“I was up there (Mungo National Park) working on climatic change in the old lakes, from which the water had long since gone.

“I was mapping the shorelines of the lakes and discovered evidence of ancient people, including stone tools and fire places, so I brought it to the attention of my archaeologist colleagues.”

Dr Bowler said that was how it all started.

He was working in an area where wind erosion had removed the top five metres of soil.

“These bones came out of the bottom of that, which showed they were old. I wasn’t looking for them, but I was conscious of the possibility of coming across human remains because of the stone tools,” he said.

“It was the first in situ evidence that was still in the ground. The paradox was they were human remains and the bodies themselves, not just evidence of people.”

ANU funded the return of the bones to the university, which was where they remained until November 2015, when they went into temporary storage at the National Museum of Australia.

After years of effort, the bones were returned to their traditional owners on November 17, 2017.

“We were aware of the great sensitivity and the importance the remains had to the Aboriginal tribal groups out there near the Darling River,” Dr Bowler said.

“We had asked for many years to have a proper memorial and a proper resting place for those people.”

Dr Bowler said the Federal and NSW governments failed to provide the necessary resources and showed a lack of respect for the aboriginal heritage treasures the remains are.

“There is nothing like them anywhere in the world,” he said.

“Still to this day, although Mungo Man has gone home, he is in a temporary residence. There is no permanent place to put him.

“That is a case of national scandal. It is a significant failure of the government.”

Dr Bowler said now is the time to really “hammer” the government to make sure there is a future dedicated memorial to those who have died.

“Not just Mungo Man and Mungo Lady, but the thousands of Aboriginal people who died in defence of their country,” he said.

“More than 20,000 Aboriginal people are identified to have died at the hands of white settlers. We took control of their lands at a great cost to them.”

Dr Bowler said there was no question about the value of the discoveries made at Lake Mungo.

“Even though the bones were removed without the permission of the Aboriginal people, had we not removed them, they would have been destroyed by erosion in a year,” he said.

The bones were originally estimated to be between 20,000 and 30,000 years old.

With more sophisticated ageing techniques, the remains of both Mungo Man and Mungo Lady are now considered to be around 40,000 years old.

“They are the oldest dated human remains in Australia,” Dr Bowler said.

“They are the only two cases found in position and accurately dated. And these were not just fragments, in the case of Mungo Man it was an entire skeleton.”

Significant find: formerly from Leongatha, geologist Dr Jim Bowler was the man who discovered the ancient human remains, which became known as Mungo Lady and Mungo Man. The bones were recently returned to their traditional owners.

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=23692

Posted by on Jan 9 2018. Filed under Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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