Aborigines Said To Read
The Stars 23,000 Years Ago

By David Watts - Asia Editor
The Times (London)


11-14-98


ABORIGINES had a zodiac thousands of years before the first European equivalent, according to a Melbourne academic.

John Morieson, of Swinburne University in Melbourne, says that they had a highly sophisticated understanding of the seasons and the world around them 23,000 years ago.

He also says that the Aborigines had no need of a written language because everything could be read in the night sky.

Further, because they have been recorded as having eyesight five times better than whites, there would have been no problem with reading the celestial data. The Aborigines' zodiac featured 40 different native birds and animals, including crows, eagles, parrots, lorikeets and dancing men.

"A study of these sky creatures reveals encyclopaedic oral knowledge, a thorough understanding of the seasons and no need for a written culture," Mr. Morieson says.

He adds that there is evidence for the zodiac from Aboriginal folklore passed on in the 1840s by the now-lost Boorong people. The most conspicuous elements in the zodiac are a giant emu reposing between the Southern Cross and Scorpio; Gemini is formed by a tortoise and a fantail cuckoo and a pair of Australian cranes make up the elements of Magellan.

Carbon dating of the Boorong settlement at Lake Tyrell, in Victoria, puts the information at 23,000 years old.

Mr. Morieson worked for four years with local Aborigines on data first gathered by a Victoria grazier, William Stanbridge, and presented to the Philosophical Institute in Melbourne in 1857.

His material was based on first-hand accounts from Boorong elders who identified 30 stars and constellations used by tribal Aborigines. He recorded each Aboriginal term and its equivalent in the European zodiac.

The work, which is expected to make a significant impact on Aboriginal studies, has been accepted for publication by Melbourne University Press.

 

 

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