First it was said that the planned burial of the 42,000-year-old remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Lady has been halted. Then it turned out that the unique finds were buried after all. in unknown places. Maybe lost forever.
Shock to paleogeologist Wolfgang Müller, Professor at the University of Frankfurt:
“It’s an incredible loss. These are anatomically modern humans who are exactly the same age, if not older than the oldest anatomically modern humans here in Europe. Simply because they exist […] These discoveries show that people were able to plan, build boats, cross, and start a new way of life there.”
Oldest known guide to human culture
Mungo Man and Mungo Lady received a ritual burial from their contemporaries. This makes it the oldest known evidence of human culture. Aboriginal tribes living around the sites consider them their ancestors.
And Minister Susan Lee, who was still in charge at the time, announced the decision to bury the unidentified body in the homeland, just before the new parliamentary elections in early April. At the time, the minister on National Aboriginal Television, NITV, said the decision was difficult but ultimately easy. The majority of the state-appointed Indigenous Consultative Group was to support the funeral. Out of respect for Aboriginal traditions, this is what Australia must do now as a nation.
Many aborigines freaked out
However, many Aboriginal people do not feel represented by the state body. They were even more appalled by the rush to bury them than any other realm.
“It has caused an incredible amount of cultural damage and taken a huge emotional toll on us.” Jason Kelly and Michael Young are the spokesmen for the so-called “traditional owners”, the indigenous people whose land was found on Mungo Man and Mungo Lady in the 1960s. “It goes back to the roots of our humanity. We feel like we don’t have a voice. We don’t have a veto. We haven’t been heard.”
Had it been up to them, the remains would have been buried as well, but not in unknown locations. They would find their final resting place at Keeping Place. Kind of a cultural monument with an attached teaching and research center. The bones should be buried there in a way that will preserve them for future generations — and perhaps for science, Michael Young explains.
We do not want to destroy our heritage! We want to make it bigger. We want to get to a point where we are ourselves, where our future generations are archaeologists, project managers, anthropologists, and geologists. The Keeping Place could have been the beginning for them to tell our story.”
Just bury the symbol of the right to self-determination
The aborigines have been equal citizens of Australia only since 1967. The Mungo Man and Mungo Lady were found around the same time. For many, they have become a symbol of the right to self-determination, Jason Kelly explains.
“You came back to us at a time when things were about to change. They showed the world: We are not just equal citizens, we are not just human beings, we are the oldest surviving culture on earth. We know we have always been here. But to be heard, we must science to show it.”
The burial was illegal
Representatives of the traditional owners have been fighting to hold the place since the 1980s. The Indigenous Advisory Group was also in favor until 2018. However, concrete construction plans failed because, in the end, public authorities were not willing to support the project.
The traditional owners lodged an objection to the burial at an unknown location and obtained an injunction. In fact, the finds should not be buried at all.
Wolfgang Muller believes that little attention has been paid to the conflict outside Australia. “I think to some extent the lack of pressure from this entire global community is also that we should at least keep these discoveries for all of us, just so that they show how important they are to all of us. We didn’t make it.”
The “traditional owners” are now calling for an official and independent investigation to establish how the burial could have taken place despite the injunction and who was responsible.
It is unlikely that Mungo Man and Mungo Lady will be found again.
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