Monday 18 May 2009 – National Archaeology Week

Australia’s Rift Valley: the archaeology of the Willandra Lakes and investigations of its fossil trackway

Dr Michael Westaway
Curator (Archaeology),Queensland Museum

Trackway at Willandra Lakes

The Willandra Lakes has been described by some archaeologists as Australia’s Rift Valley. It contains some of the earliest evidence in the Australasian region of modern human occupation. The discovery of Mungo Lady forty years ago led to a significant revision of public appreciation of the age and complexity of Aboriginal occupation of Australia. In addition the landscape provides a comprehensive record of human adaptation to dramatic climate change over a 50,000 year period. The recently discovered fossil trackway site from the northern lakes in the system has emerged as one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries from within Australia this millennia. Many of the footprints are perfectly fossilised in a clay unit that is reliably dated to the peak of the Last Great Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. But what else can they tell us about the Aboriginal people that lived in the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area?

In this paper I will discuss the importance of the Willandra for understanding the complexity of Aboriginal occupation and outline some of the main elements of the archaeological and palaeoenvironmental record. I will then discuss the results of further investigations at the Willandra Lakes fossil trackway including the outcome of a ground penetrating radar survey and redating of the fossil trackway, and a re-evaluation of the trackway speeds derived from data recorded by high resolution digital scanning.

  • Time: 6:30pm to 7:30pm (Doors open at 6pm)
  • Venue: Ithaca Auditorium, Brisbane City Hall
  • Refreshments: There will be complimentary drinks and nibblies following the talk, and Michael will be available to answer any questions.
  • Questions? Contact Lynelle (