Wednesday, October 1, 2008

aboriginal rock painting: ships, aeroplanes and... bicycles!?

Djulirri in north-western Arnhem Land is home to the most expansive and spectacular discovery of Aboriginal rock art spanning ancient and modern humanity - Sydney Morning Herald, 20 Sept 08.

This is the most exciting news I have heard in a long time! According to the article in the SMH and the fabulous video there are images of ships (both outside and inside), aeroplanes and even bicycles! Obviously I am very interested in the bicycles... when would people up that way have seen bikes? Who would have been riding them? Perhaps it was the missionaries.

Bicycles aside, I think this is a marvellous find for Australian history. The drawings of the ships are extremely detailed and so well performed it is easy to identify the subjects. Sails and rigging, deck layouts and portholes... all are depicted clearly. What a bizarre and incredible outlook these drawings document: from kangaroo to biplane. Is there another archaeological site anywhere in the world that has been a living document of a history for so many thousands of years?

The fact that the ship drawings include internal detail is particularly telling. I wonder if the Aboriginal artists had seen drawings made by the visitors prior to setting these images on the walls. Would the Chinese or European style have influenced their own depictions of the world? Perhaps these images might provide evidence of this. Is there any evidence in China of the interactions with the Aborigines of Australia? Can anything in this find somehow be linked with the map drawn by Mo Yi Tong in 1763? (This map was apparently copied from a map made in 1418... see image below from The Age, 16 Jan 06.)

Early visitors to our shores may have been a little less destructive than the later invaders and missionaries in order to trade for sea cucumbers! Very strange. I hope they could be preserved for the journey back to China. Anyway, there is a huge part of history waiting to be coloured in. Not the least of which is... what kind of bicycle did the artists draw and did they draw the frame and handle-bars correctly? Non-cyclists are notoriously bad bicycle drawers!

P.S. Thanks to RealDirt for the heads-up on this one.

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