Publication Details

Fitzsimmons, K. E., Stern, N., Murray-Wallace, C. V., Truscott, W. & Pop, C. (2015). The Mungo mega-lake event, semi-arid Australia: non-linear descent into the last ice age, implications for human behaviour. PLoS One, 10 (6), e0127008-1 - e0127008-19.


The Willandra Lakes complex is one of the few locations in semi-arid Australia to preserve both paleoenvironmental and Paleolithic archeological archives at high resolution. The stratigraphy of transverse lunette dunes on the lakes' downwind margins record a late Quaternary sequence of wetting and drying. Within the Willandra system, the Lake Mungo lunette is best known for its preservation of the world's oldest known ritual burials, and high densities of archeological traces documenting human adaptation to changing environmental conditions over the last 45 ka. Here we identify evidence at Lake Mungo for a previously unrecognised short-lived, very high lake filling phase at 24 ka, just prior to the Last Glacial Maximum. Mega-lake Mungo was up to 5 m deeper than preceding or subsequent lake full events and represented a lake volume increase of almost 250%. Lake Mungo was linked with neighboring Lake Leaghur at two overflow points, creating an island from the northern part of the Mungo lunette. This event was most likely caused by a pulse of high catchment rainfall and runoff, combined with neotectonic activity which may have warped the lake basin. It indicates a non-linear transition to more arid ice age conditions. The mega-lake restricted mobility for people living in the area, yet archeological traces indicate that humans rapidly adapted to the new conditions. People repeatedly visited the island, transporting stone tools across water and exploiting food resources stranded there. They either swam or used watercraft to facilitate access to the island and across the lake. Since there is no evidence for watercraft use in Australia between initial colonization of the continent prior to 45 ka and the mid-Holocene, repeated visits to the island may represent a resurrection of waterfaring technologies following a hiatus of at least 20 ky.

Grant Number