Australia

Little research has been done on the archaeoastronomy of the ancient inhabitants of the bush, but there is evidence of a rich ethnoastronomical if not archeoastronomical heritage. It is known that the Aborigines originated in southeastern Asia and migrated probably in major, infrequent episodes. The earliest attested arrivals were around 40,000 b.c. The Pleistocene Ice Age (ending by about 8000 b.c.) facilitated travel because ocean levels were lower by ~90 m, enlarging islands, connecting island chains, and generally reducing open water between land masses. Open water still needed to be crossed at any epoch, however.

Prior to European contact, there were an estimated 300,000 people living among "tribes" or bands of people having some common characteristics, among which could be territory, family relatives, language/dialect, tribal name, unique social/ritual identity, and sometimes sections, subsections, or moieties (a moiety is a state of dual division in a tribe, mainly for ceremonial purposes). There were 228 languages (O'Grady, Voegelin, and Voegelin 1966, pp. 26-29) in 29 Phylic families of Australia's Macro-Phylum (28 of which were in Arnhem Land and one in the Kimberley District) and 5 other Phylic families; however, there were 117 still linguistically unclassified "tribes."

Humans were using and decorating rock shelters in Australia far back in the Upper Palaeolithic; such material is notoriously difficult to date. McCarthy, cited in Reed (1969/1974, p. 37), distinguished several types of rock engravings: abraded grooves; human, animal, and inanimate object outline figures; pecked versions of these figures; and geometrical designs, both curvilinear and rectilinear. The rock galleries are found all over Australia; those at Broken Hill, New South Wales, and Port Headland, Western Australia, are extensive. Deep limestone caverns in the Nullarbor Plain of Australia are decorated with cave paintings, some of which represent ancestral heroes, men and gods of the Dreamtime.1 Categories similar to those for the rock galleries have been devised for cave paintings, but in this case, the figures can be found in both black and white and in extensive colors (Reed 1969/1974, pp. 120-121). Among the finest examples of cave paintings are the Wondjina in the Kimberleys and the region of the Oenpelli-Liverpool River, Northern Territory.

The people of the region were until recent times hunter-gatherers, to whom the observation of rites prior to food gathering and hunting was a necessary and sacred duty. To ensure a plentiful supply of food, such a ceremony was held at the heliacal rising of the Pleiades in May, which marked the beginning of a new year. At this time and during the Australian winter, which followed, cries of "The earth is turning itself about" would be heard from the elders as they observed the night sky (Reed 1969/1974, p. 16).

Constellations were named and associated with the "spirit people" of the Dreamtime. Stories about the origins of individual constellations and asterisms, such as the Southern Cross and the Pleiades, vary from tribe to tribe. The principal sky deity was the All-Father, known in various areas as Baiame (among the Kamalaroi and other tribes in New South Wales), Beral, Bunjil (among the Wotjoballuk and Kurnai; a hero who introduced the tribal moiety system, among the Kulim), Daramulun (among the Yuin), Goin, Mangan-Ngana, Nepele, and Ngurunderi by various tribes (Reed 1969/1974, p. 75). In northern and central areas of Australia, the notion of a single creator god was not prevalent. In Arnhem Land, there was a Mother Goddess,

1 Basically, it is the time when the ancestral heroes, the "Old People" lived. In a broader meaning, it is the time when the basic patterns of the world and living things were created, but it is not completed: It is a continual, eternal process. Thus, all the gods, the spirits, and the ancestors who performed the sacred rites are living, still, now and forever. The people keep within the Dreamtime by song, dance, and ritual (Reed 1969/1974, p. 57).

associated with the Rainbow Snake. The proliferation of religious beliefs is not particularly surprising, considering the antiquity of human habitation in Australia.

Some tribes believed that the sky was the repository of the spirit after death, but more generally it was felt that the spirit was essentially immortal, undergoing many reincarnations and travels, but eventually reaching its home on either the Earth or in the sky—among the heroes, where it would find eternal youth. Mourning and disposal ceremonies had to be performed carefully or the spirit of the newly dead could haunt the locale, with negative consequences for all activites.

Initiation ceremonies (bora) are held at sacred and secret bora grounds, which consist of two cleared circles joined by a path. Both men and women must undergo the rigors of these ceremonies, although the women's is said to be less challenging (Reed 1969/1974, p. 91). A legend of the origin of the Pleiades from southeastern Australia describes the trials of a group of seven women who insisted on enduring the more sacred and severe trials of the young men and were rewarded for their endurance and perserverance by being taken up into the sky as the Seven Sisters (Reed and Reed 1965, pp. 83-87 cited in Reed 1969/1974, pp. 90-91).

The Iuwalarai tribe called the Sun, who was female, Yhi, and the Moon, who was male, Bahloo. Yhi was said to lust after and chase Bahloo, among whose duties it was to produce girl babies. In a society where arranged marriages were common, especially between young females and old males, such stories are revealing. Important assemblies were held at full Moon. An important mediator at assemblies involving more than one tribe was the medicine man, who also mediated between spirits and the tribe; he had the power to visit the sky home of the spirits (Reed 1969/1974, p. 106).

Astronomical content in Australian paintings may go back 30,000 years or more, according to Cairns (1993). He points out (p. 75) that modern Australians make explicitly astronomical bark paintings dealing with the Moon's phases, the movements of the Sun, and planetary phenomena. There are widespread stories associated with asterisms—one, about a man, a dog, and a kangaroo rat, is associated with the constellation Hydra, which is used as a directional guide. The morning star also appears as a guide. In the Kimberleys, a figure identified by local people as Wandjina, a Moon goddess, is associated with 28 small lines (Cairns 1993, p. 78). Some paintings, possibly as early as 11,000 b.c., are interpreted by tribesmen whose groups have long lived in the area as references to the sky (Cairns 1993, p. 71). The Sydney site, in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, which is oriented to the cardinal points, shows more than 100 possible star patterns with meters of rock art depicting celestial personages and marks of lunar numbers (Cairns 1993, pp. 75-76).

0 0

Post a comment