Willandra Lakes Region

Willandra Lakes Region

The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45–60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

Région des lacs Willandra

On trouve dans cette région les restes fossilisés d’une série de lacs et de formations dunaires du pléistocène, ainsi que la preuve archéologique d’une occupation humaine il y a de cela 60 000 à 45 000 ans. C’est un jalon unique dans l’histoire de l’évolution humaine sur le continent australien. On a découvert également dans la région plusieurs fossiles de marsupiaux géants bien conservés.

منطقة بحيرات ويلاندرا

نجد في هذه المنطقة بقايا متحجّرات من سلسلة بحيرات وتشكلات كثبانية تعود إلى الباليستوسين، بالإضافة إلى البرهان الأثري عن إشغال بشري للمكان منذ 60000 إلى 45000 عام. إنه معلم فريد من نوعه في تاريخ التطوّر البشري على القارة الأسترالية. وقد تمّ اكتشاف عدد من المتحجّرات العائدة للحرابيات العملاقة التي لا تزال محفوظة جيدًا.

source: UNESCO/ERI

威兰德拉湖区

该湖区有更新世(the Pleistocene)系列湖泊和沙滩构造的化石,考古研究还发现了4.5至6万年前人类居住的证据。这对于研究澳洲大陆人类进化史有着里程碑式的意义。湖区还有一些保存完好的大型有袋动物化石。

source: UNESCO/ERI

Озерный район Уилландра

Окаменелости и другие археологические находки, датируемые плейстоценом, обнаруженные в песках и на высохших озерах, свидетельствуют о заселении этого района 45-60 тыс. лет назад. С точки зрения изучения эволюции человека на австралийском материке район Уилландра является поистине уникальным местом. Здесь также найдены хорошо сохранившиеся ископаемые останки гигантских сумчатых животных.

source: UNESCO/ERI

Región de los Lagos Willandra

Esta región posee restos fosilizados de lagos y dunas del Pleistoceno, así como vestigios arqueológicos que atestiguan la presencia del ser humano desde unos 60.000 a 45.000 años. De ahí que sea un sitio excepcional para el estudio de la evolución humana en el continente australiano. También se han encontrado varios fósiles de marsupiales gigantes en buen estado de conservación.

source: UNESCO/ERI

ウィランドラ湖群地域

source: NFUAJ

Willandra Merenregio

In de regio van de Willandra meren bevinden zich de fossiele resten van een reeks meren en zandformaties uit het Pleistoceen. Daarnaast is er archeologisch bewijs te vinden van menselijke bewoning daterend van 45.000 tot 60.000 jaar geleden. De flora en fauna van het Willandra merengebied zijn archeologisch van significant belang; ze gelden als een mijlpaal in de studie van de menselijke evolutie op het Australische continent. De gevonden en goed bewaard gebleven fossielen van reuzenbuideldieren maken het namelijk mogelijk een verband vast te stellen tussen het uitsterven van deze dieren en predatie door de mens.

Source: unesco.nl

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Willandra Lakes Region © DSEWPaC
Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

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 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.

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. 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.

Criterion (iii): 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.

Criterion (viii): The Australian geological environment, with its low topographic relief and low energy systems, is unique in the longevity of the landscapes it preserves, and the Willandra Lakes provides an exceptional window into climatic and related environmental changes over the last 100,000 years. The Willandra Lakes, largely unmodified since they dried out some 18,500 years BP, provide excellent conditions for recording the events of the Pleistocene Epoch, and demonstrate how non-glaciated zones responded to the major glacial-interglacial fluctuations.

The demonstration at this site of the close interconnection between landforms and pedogenesis, palaeochemistry, climatology, archaeology, archaeomagnetism, radiocarbon dating, palaeoecology and faunal extinction, represents a classic landmark in Pleistocene research in the Australasian area. Willandra Lakes Region is also of exceptional importance for investigating the period when humans became dominant in Australia, and the large species of wildlife became extinct, and research continues to elucidate what role humans played in these events.

Integrity

The property as nominated covered some 3,700 km2, following cadastral boundaries and including the entire Pleistocene lake and river systems from Lake Mulurulu in the north to the Prungle Lakes in the south, thereby including all elements contributing to its Outstanding Universal Value. In 1995 boundaries for the property were revised in order to ‘better define the area containing the World Heritage values and … facilitate the management of the property’. The revised boundary follows topographic features, with an appropriate buffer within the boundary, to more closely delineate the entire lake and river system but exclude extraneous pastoral areas. The area of the property now covers ~2,400 km2.

Although pastoral development has resulted in ecological changes, stocking rates are low and dependent on natural unimproved pasture and the area remains predominantly vegetated in its natural condition. For leasehold properties within the property, Individual Property Plans (IPPs) have been developed and implemented, including actions such as excluding grazing from sensitive areas and relocating watering points to minimise the impact of grazing, to protect Outstanding Universal Value while also allowing sustainable land uses. There have also been significant additions to Mungo National Park, including some of the most archaeologically significant areas of the property.

Much of the scientific and cultural significance of the property is related to the values embedded in or associated with the lunettes. Erosion and deflation continues to expose material in already disturbed areas of the lunettes. At time of listing approximately 8% was extensively eroded, while 72% remained vegetated and intact, with the remaining area partly eroded.

Authenticity

The authenticity of the natural and Aboriginal cultural heritage values of the Willandra has been established in the first instance, in a western or European cultural sense, by rigorous scientific investigation and research by leading experts in their fields. Researchers have established the great antiquity and the richness of Aboriginal cultural heritage at Willandra which brought about a reassessment of the prehistory of Australia and its place in the evolution and the dispersal of humans across the world.

For the Traditional Tribal Groups (TTGs) that have an association with the area there has never been any doubt about the authenticity of the Willandra and any particular sites it contains. The TTGs have maintained their links with the land and continue to care for this important place and participate in its management as a World Heritage property. Aboriginal people of the Willandra take great pride in their cultural heritage and maintain their connection through modern day cultural, social and economic practices. 

Protection and management requirements

The majority of the area comprises pastoral stations leased from the State and administered by the NSW Land and Property Management Authority. The remaining land contains a large part of the Mungo National Park, which is managed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and which has grown from 4.2% of the property at time of inscription to 29.9% in 2012. There are also some small areas of freehold land within the property. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage provides archaeological expertise over all land tenures within the property. The statutory basis for management is established under New South Wales legislation by the Willandra Lakes Region Environmental Plan. This provides for a Community Management Council, Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee, Elders Council of Traditional Tribal Groups affiliated with the Willandra, and Landholders Protection Group to input advice on the management of the World Heritage Area.

Upon listing, the World Heritage Committee requested that a management plan be ‘rapidly established for the whole area.’ This process was begun in 1989 with the first property management plan – Sustaining the Willandra –finalised in 1996 following extensive consultation with all stakeholders. Individual Property Plans have been developed to protect World Heritage values on the pastoral stations. Similarly, Mungo National Park, managed jointly by the NPWS and Traditional Tribal Groups under a Joint Management Agreement, is subject to a management plan which aims to maximise conservation of both natural and cultural heritage values while also conserving biodiversity and facilitating appropriate visitor access. Visitor access to sensitive areas is carefully controlled, and in some areas excluded, to mitigate adverse impacts on World Heritage values.

All World Heritage properties in Australia are ‘matters of national environmental significance’ protected and managed under national legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This Act is the statutory instrument for implementing Australia’s obligations under a number of multilateral environmental agreements including the World Heritage Convention. By law, any action that has, will have or is likely to have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Substantial penalties apply for taking such an action without approval. Once a heritage place is listed, the Act provides for the preparation of management plans which set out the significant heritage aspects of the place and how the values of the site will be managed.

Importantly, this Act also aims to protect matters of national environmental significance, such as World Heritage properties, from impacts even if they originate outside the property or if the values of the property are mobile (as in fauna). It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts. In 2007 the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area was added to the National Heritage List in recognition of its national heritage significance.

The property management plan identifies issues for management, outlines strategies for responses and identifies responsible parties. Among the issues and threats to values being addressed through coordinated action are the occurrence of invasive pest species (including European rabbits and feral goats), balancing increased visitation with asset protection, controlling total grazing pressure to provide for perennial vegetation regeneration, and limiting accelerated erosion where practicable.

Long Description

The fossil remains of a series of lakes and sand formations that date from the Pleistocene can be found in this region, together with archaeological evidence of human occupation dating from 45-60,000 years ago. It is a unique landmark in the study of human evolution on the Australian continent. Several well-preserved fossils of giant marsupials have also been found here.

The Willandra Lakes Region is primarily a geological site, with fauna and flora of significant interest in an archaeological sense: the Willandra Lakes may be the best locality for establishing a link between the extinction of the giant marsupial fauna and predation by humans. The Australian geological environment, with its low topographic relief and low energy systems, is unique in the longevity of the landscapes it preserves. The site includes the entire lake and river system from Lake Mulurulu, the latest to hold water, to the Prungle Lakes, dry for more than 15,000 years, and the region is unique in the world.

The Willandra Lakes provide excellent conditions for recording the events of the Pleistocene epoch (when man evolved into his present form), demonstrating how non-glaciated zones responded to the major climatic fluctuations between glacial periods. When Willandra Billabong Creek ceased to flow and so to replenish the lakes, this dried in series from the Prungle Lakes in the south to Lake Mulurulu in the north over several thousand years; as each lake evaporated, it became an independent system undergoing a basic transformation from fresh water to saline water to dry lake bed.

As long as water remained in a lake, dunes were accumulated along the eastern margins. It is this system of transverse crescent-shaped dunes, called 'lunettes', which contain evidence of past hydrological and geochemical environments. The freshwater lakes concentrated clean quartz sands on eastern beaches, but the lakes became more saline as they dried out, and clay pellets were chipped from the exposed lake floor by high winds to form distinctive clay lunettes. Such clay dunes are rare in world terms, and the well-preserved fossil examples in the Willandra Lakes region are an important geological resource; the 30 m high Lake Chibnalwood clay lunette is one of the largest in the world.

The Willandra Lakes Region is a remarkable example of a site where the economic life of Homo sapiens can be reconstructed, showing a remarkable adaptation to local resources and a fascinating interaction between human culture and the changing natural environment. The fossil landscape remains largely unmodified since the end of the last Pleistocene ice age.

Archaeological discoveries made here are of outstanding value. They include a 26,000-year-old cremation site (the oldest known in the world), a 30,000-year-old ochre burial, the remains of giant marsupials in an excellent state of conservation, and grindstones from 18,000 years ago used to crush wild grass for flour whose age is comparable with that claimed for the earliest seed-grind economies. The region also contains the remains of hearths, some dated to 30,000 years ago.

The region also provides evidence of the most distant point of dispersal reached during the course of the last glaciation by Homo sapiens and the earliest economic data in the world for human dependence on freshwater resources, in a pattern paralleled by Aborigines as recently as 100 years ago on the Darling River.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC