Willandra Lakes Region – UNESCO Heritage in Australia



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. In 1981, listed in UNESCO Heritage list.


Located in New South Wales, Australia.

About Willandra Lakes Region

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. The demonstration at this site of the close interconnection between landforms and pedogenesis, palaeochemistry, climatology, archaeology, archaeo-magnetism, 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.

4. 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.

5. For the Traditional Tribal Groups 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. They 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.

Best Time to Visit

The best times to visit are September through November and from March to May.


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