Mungo Man has never been returned home, but instead is kept under lock and key in a box at the Australian National University. Researchers have long since stopped studying him. The university has been waiting for Aboriginal elders to request his return.
The Australian understands that request will formally be made in coming weeks, coinciding with the discovery’s 40th anniversary on February 26.
Former ANU professor Jim Bowler, now in his 80s, discovered a female skeleton, known as Mungo Lady, in 1968. It had been cremated. In 1974 he returned to the site and discovered Mungo Man, separated from Mungo Lady by 450m in distance and 20,000 years in time.
He has long called for the return of Mungo Man, to be reunited with Mungo Lady at a temporary keeping place at Lake Mungo National Park where her bones are locked away, awaiting reburial.
She was returned by former ANU archeologist Alan Thorne in 1991.
“This discovery changed Australian history but Mungo Man has spent too long in his cardboard box. He needs to go home,” Professor Bowler told The Australian.
“I can’t go into too much detail about the process yet but a working party is already making sure it happens.”
Elders from the three tribes whose traditional lands include the Lake Mungo area — the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi — travelled to Canberra last year and visited the bones of Mungo Man and others held at the ANU
“I felt really sick in the guts when I saw them,” Warren Clark said at the time. “We were all appalled.”
A scientist who is familiar with Mungo Man’s controversial history in research said that the “right” thing to do was to return him.
“We have learned so much from him and the world has benefited from this skeleton giving up its secrets but he was never ours to keep,” he said.
“He has added to a proud history for Aboriginal Australians but they are rightly very sensitive about keeping Mungo Man away from Country any longer.
“The time has come, I think, to bring him home.”
A spokeswoman for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage told The Australian it was “still early days” in any attempt to repatriate the skeleton.
“OEH and the Aboriginal community at Mungo are having discussions about how to best manage the repatriation of remains to Mungo National Park, including those of Mungo Man,” she said.
“While these discussions and associated planning occurs, the current keeping place at Mungo National Park is being upgraded to improve its cultural appropriateness in readiness.”
The Australian understands elders have a “multi-million-dollar” proposal for Mungo Man’s final keeping place. RICK MORTON / theaustralian.com.au
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