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Talking to a Man Who Has Died 40,000 Years Ago.

Updated on February 2, 2019
Beata Stasak profile image

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

Jim Bowler, late in his 70s lives in a bush hut close to Lake Mungo. Lake Mungo ceased to exist 40, 000 years ago becoming a dusty rocky unforgiving place.

If you enter his basic hut you will discover the rocks of all sizes and shapes.

Jim came here as a young and enthusiastic geologist 50 years back fresh from posh English university eager to study the ancient landscape. Back then rock meant everything to him, he didn’t even realize that people live here too.

Until one day, 44 years ago he stumbled on ancient skeleton of a warrior in prehistoric ceremonial grave. Jim needed a help of a friend, an anthropologist so they flew the precious bones to Canberra to establish his age. Jim was astonished to realize that at the time Neanderthals roamed the Europe with prehistoric animals, here already advanced homo sapiens was using spears to obtain food and red ochre for ceremony. The bone structure of the Lake Mungo warrior was impressive with his high forehead and strong jaws and big round skull he was homo sapiens, the one who was still missing in the Europe at that time.

“Imagine,” Jim said quietly to his fellow anthropologist: “We have settled here in Australia feeling so superior and advanced just to discover the most advanced human at that time on earth lived here, isn’t that a bit ironical?”

Jim suddenly wanted to know more about this ancient man and forgetting the rocks he spent his time studying the bones. He drew a portrait of warrior how he in all probability looked like and once back in his hut next to Lake Munro he hanged it on his wall.

One day wondering around the Lake that was not lake anymore thinking about the most advanced man of his time who was long dead he stumbled upon a Willandra Lake tribe people who stood above the empty grave of their stolen ancestors. They looked at Jim and asked him: ‘Why?’

Jim looked at them with an open surprise: “I didn’t know you are even here that you even exist? I thought the Lake Mungo man’s people were long dead and gone. I

But the Willandra Lake tribe just kept asking: “Why did you steal our ancestor? You took him from his resting place, from his home, why?”

Jim tried to explain that this is what scientists do to find out more about the human civilization that lived before them. They study the bones in laboratories.

The Willandra Lake people looked back on Jim and asked him: “So you know his name and you know what he believed in and you know how he lived and how he died.”

“No,” Jim shook his head sadly: “The bones just told us that he was well advanced and strong human male in his 40s who used a spear and was very important to be buried ceremonially painted with red ochre.”

The Willantra people shook their heads sadly and passed him on their way back to their desert community. The last of them stopped and told Jim: “You know, you would find more by leaving our ancestor in his resting place where he belongs and just came to us to ask us about him.”

The Tribal elder looked at Jim for a long time and then added: “But we are grateful to you because you confirmed to your white people that Aboriginal people hav

"They never believed us but they trust your science yes?”

Jim nodded and outstretch his hand. The elder look at his hand and touched his shoulder gently instead: “I will shake your hand once you bring our ancestor back where he belongs.”

Jim looked at him with panic in his eyes: “I can’t, I am just a scientist, it belongs to government now, you know to Australian people.”

“Australian people?” The Elder lifted his eyebrow: “I think you should talk to him, to the Lake Mungo man.”

Before Jim could ask how he can talk to the man who is dead for 40,000 years the elder disappeared among the sand dunes like he was never there.

43 years passed from the time the Lake Mungo man was taken away by Jim and his fellow anthropologist. He was gathering dust in a long forgotten corner of Canberra laboratory. The Willandra people were patiently waiting for his return to his ancestral land so he could find peace among his people again.

And Jim Bowler was shuffling around in his outback cottage looking out on the ancient Lake Mungo and writing the long scientific thesis about the Lake Mungo warrior who never left his mind. His grown up children came to visit him often trying to persuade him to move back to the city in his advanced age where he belonged. But Jim shook his head: “I have to return him back home,” he pointed on the drawing on the wall: “He told me, he wants to come home to rest among his people.”

His children looked at him confused so he continued: “You know I came here half a century ago to study moon like empty landscape thinking no one is here just rocks to study so I can learn about the past, but I have discovered people are more important than rocks and the Lake Mungo Man is still alive because his people are still here just behind those sand dunes.”

Jim took hands of his two grown up children and told them: “When I die you burry me on my home ground among my ancestors and you my children keep my grave alive with your memories yes? If someone came up and dig out my grave you would never forgive that person, wouldn’t you?”

Jim looked up at the Lake Mungo Man’s portrait and whispered quietly: “I have his forgiveness now.”

In few months Jim and his fellow anthropologist after many government obstacles finally brought the Lake Munro bones back home. The desert wind greeted them and the Willandra Lake people cried the tears of homecoming. Jim felt suddenly overtaken with emotions and told his fellow anthropologist: “You know, it is important to be a scientist but what is even more important is to always remember to stay human.”

His fellow anthropologist leaning on Jim in his advanced age nodded sadly: “You know in this self important suit that doesn’t belong here and with all my scientific diplomas adorning my walls of my office I feel so insignificant and small in this open ancient landscape with the eyes of the Lake Mungo’s people on me, people whose first ancestors roamed this land 60,000 years ago?”

“I know exactly how you feel,” Jim patted his arm: “We are just two old self important fools like the rest of newcomers, we know nothing about this ancient land doesn’t matter how many ancient bones we will study and never will…”

How can we ever understand our past if we constantly look down on our first people who are the only one who can teach us about our shared past?


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