The Willandra Lakes Region

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The Willandra Lakes Region, in the semi-arid zone in southwest New South Wales (NSW), contains a relict lake system whose sediments, geomorphology and soils contain an outstanding record of a low-altitude, non-glaciated Pleistocene landscape. It also contains an outstanding record of the glacial-interglacial climatic oscillations of the late Pleistocene, particularly over the last 100,000 years. Ceasing to function as a lake ecosystem some 18,500 years ago, Willandra Lakes provides excellent conditions to document life in the Pleistocene epoch, the period when humans evolved into their present form.

The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia
The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

The undisturbed stratigraphic context provides outstanding evidence for the economic life of Homo sapiens sapiens to be reconstructed. Archaeological remains such as hearths, stone tools and shell middens show a remarkable adaptation to local resources and a fascinating interaction between human culture and the changing natural environment. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia
The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

Willandra contains some of the earliest evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens outside Africa. The evidence of occupation deposits establishes that humans had dispersed as far as Australia by 42,000 years ago. Sites also illustrate human burials that are of great antiquity, such as a cremation dating to around 40,000 years BP, the oldest ritual cremation site in the world, and traces of complex plant-food gathering systems that date back before 18,000 years BP associated with grindstones to produce flour from wild grass seeds, at much the same time as their use in the Middle East.

The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia
The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

Pigments were transported to these lakeshores before 42,000 years BP. Evidence from this region has allowed the typology of early Australian stone tools to be defined. Since inscription, the discovery of the human fossil trackways, aged between 19,000 and 23,000 years BP, have added to the understanding of how early humans interacted with their environment.

The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia
The Willandra Lakes Region, Australia

The drying up of the Willandra Lakes some 18,500 years BP allowed the survival of remarkable evidence of the way early people interacted with their environment. The undisturbed stratigraphy has revealed evidence of Homo sapiens sapiens in this area from nearly 50,000 years BP, including the earliest known cremation, fossil trackways, early use of grindstone technology and the exploitation of fresh water resources, all of which provide an exceptional testimony to human development during the Pleistocene period.

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