Quantitative assessment of the oxygen isotope composition of fish otoliths from Lake Mungo, Australia

Kelsie Long, David Heslop, Eelco Rohling

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The Willandra Lakes region is a series of once interconnected and now-dry lake basins in the arid zone of southeastern Australia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of cultural, archaeological, and geological significance, preserving records of Aboriginal occupation and environmental change stretching back to at least 50 ka. Linking the archaeology with the commensurate palaeoenvironmental information is complicated by the millennial time spans represented by the past hydrological record preserved in the sediment vs. the subdecadal evidence of each archaeological site. Oxygen isotope records across annual growth rings of fish otoliths (ear stones) can elucidate flooding and drying regimes on subannual scales. Otoliths from hearth sites (fireplaces) link lake hydrology with people eating fish on the lakeshore. Oxygen isotopic trends in hearth otoliths from the last glacial maximum (LGM) were previously interpreted in terms of high evaporation under dry conditions. However, this ignored hydrology-driven changes in water δ18O. Here, a mass balance model is constructed to test the effect lake desiccation has on water δ18O and how this compares with the LGM otolith records. Based on this modelling, we suggest that Lake Mungo otolith signatures are better explained by evaporation acting on full lakes rather than by lake drying.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)234-246
    JournalQuaternary Research
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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