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Remains of Australia’s oldest known human returned to Country

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The hand of an Aboriginal man, wearing a silver watch, gently lays on top of a traditional wood box. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags can be seen in the background.
Traditional ceremonies mark the return of Mungo Man to Country. Image courtesy: National Museum of Australia
17 Nov 2017

The remains of an Aboriginal man who lived at Lake Mungo in Western New South Wales 42,000 years ago have been returned to Country in a series of traditional ceremonies across the ACT and NSW. 

Mungo Man was transported back to Country in a restored Aboriginal hearse with 103 other ancestral remains. The 800-kilometre journey was marked with a series of Welcome to Country ceremonies in the towns of Hay and Balranald before arriving at Mungo National Park.

The discovery of the skeleton named Mungo Man in 1974 was significant in shaping Australia’s anthropological history and establishing evidence that Indigenous Australians are the oldest continuing civilization in the world. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said Mungo Man was instrumental in increasing our understanding of how and when Indigenous Australians first arrived and lived on the continent.

“The Traditional Owners, the Mutthi Mutthi, Paakantji and Ngyiampaa peoples have long desired the return of their ancestors and I am pleased to see that we have been able to make this a reality. The Australian Government continues its repatriation programs, ensuring the ancestors of our first Australians return to their Country and are properly laid to rest,” Minister Scullion said.

An Aboriginal man wearing blue shirt and pants, holds a wooden stick with a metal bucket on the end. Smoke and gum leaves are in the bucket. A black hearse with an Aboriginal flag on the door is in the background.
A traditional smoking ceremony farewells the remains of Mungo Man from Canberra. Image courtesy: National Museum of Australia

Mungo Man was formally repatriated from the Australian National University in 2015 where research was undertaken on the remains, followed by a temporary residency at the National Museum of Australia.

The return of the remains to the Traditional Owners will be celebrated with a Return to Country Festival in Mildura on Saturday 18 November.

Minister for the Arts Mitch Fifield has welcomed the celebrations, where 5,000 people are expected to pay their respects and celebrate the return of the remains.

“Community musicians and dancers will perform alongside nationally recognised headline artists such as Isaiah Firebrace, Archie Roach, Kutcha Edwards and Shane Howard,” Minister Fifield said.

Find out more

The Australian Government supports the repatriation of ancestral remains and secret sacred objects to their communities of origin to help promote healing and reconciliation.

For further information, visit Indigenous Repatriation.