The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45–60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.
The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45-60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.
The Willandra Lakes Region is primarily a geological site, with fauna and flora of significant interest in an archaeological sense: the Willandra Lakes may be the best locality for establishing a link between the extinction of the giant marsupial fauna and predation by humans. The Australian geological environment, with its low topographic relief and low energy systems, is unique in the longevity of the landscapes it preserves. The site includes the entire lake and river system from Lake Mulurulu, the latest to hold water, to the Prungle Lakes, dry for more than 15,000 years, and the region is unique in the world.
The Willandra Lakes provide excellent conditions for recording the events of the Pleistocene epoch (when man evolved into his present form), demonstrating how non-glaciated zones responded to the major climatic fluctuations between glacial periods. When Willandra Billabong Creek ceased to flow and so to replenish the lakes, this dried in series from the Prungle Lakes in the south to Lake Mulurulu in the north over several thousand years; as each lake evaporated, it became an independent system undergoing a basic transformation from fresh water to saline water to dry lake bed.
As long as water remained in a lake, dunes were accumulated along the eastern margins. It is this system of transverse crescent-shaped dunes, called 'lunettes', which contain evidence of past hydrological and geochemical environments. The freshwater lakes concentrated clean quartz sands on eastern beaches, but the lakes became more saline as they dried out, and clay pellets were chipped from the exposed lake floor by high winds to form distinctive clay lunettes. Such clay dunes are rare in world terms, and the well-preserved fossil examples in the Willandra Lakes region are an important geological resource; the 30 m high Lake Chibnalwood clay lunette is one of the largest in the world.
The Willandra Lakes Region is a remarkable example of a site where the economic life of Homo sapiens can be reconstructed, showing a remarkable adaptation to local resources and a fascinating interaction between human culture and the changing natural environment. The fossil landscape remains largely unmodified since the end of the last Pleistocene ice age.
Archaeological discoveries made here are of outstanding value. They include a 26,000-year-old cremation site (the oldest known in the world), a 30,000-year-old ochre burial, the remains of giant marsupials in an excellent state of conservation, and grindstones from 18,000 years ago used to crush wild grass for flour whose age is comparable with that claimed for the earliest seed-grind economies. The region also contains the remains of hearths, some dated to 30,000 years ago.
The region also provides evidence of the most distant point of dispersal reached during the course of the last glaciation by Homo sapiens and the earliest economic data in the world for human dependence on freshwater resources, in a pattern paralleled by Aborigines as recently as 100 years ago on the Darling River.