Friday, 3 June 2016

Dreamtime


In my post about the Montenegrian tumuluses, I argued that the Irish annals contained true historical accounts about the migration of the Partholon and his people from the sea of Azov, via Anatolia, Montenegro, Sicily, Iberia into Ireland which happened in the mid 3rd millennium BC. The Irish annals were originally oral histories which were only written down in the medieval time. And so the main complaint that I got about my Partholon theory was that it is impossible that oral histories can be preserved for so long.

Well we now seem to have proof that some oral histories could be as much as 45,000 years old if not even older...

In a genetic study in 2011, researchers found evidence that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the ancestors of the European and Asian populations between 65,000 and 75,000 years ago. These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia, where they stayed, with the result that, outside of Africa, the Aboriginal peoples have occupied the same territory continuously longer than any other human populations. These findings suggest that modern Aboriginal peoples are the direct descendants of migrants who left Africa up to 75,000 years ago.[2][3] The same genetic study of 2011 found evidence that Aboriginal peoples carry some of the genes associated with the Denisovan (a species of human related to but distinct from Neanderthals) peoples of Asia. Examining DNA from a finger bone excavated in Siberia, researchers concluded that the Denisovans migrated from Siberia to tropical parts of Asia and that they interbred with modern humans in South-East Asia at some stage before 45,000 years ago, before Australia separated from Papua New Guinea. [4] They contributed DNA to Aboriginal Australians along with present-day New Guineans and an indigenous tribe in the Philippines known as Mamanwa. This study makes Aboriginal Australians one of the oldest living populations in the world and possibly the oldest outside of Africa, confirming they may also have the oldest continuous culture on the planet.[7]

Now when did these ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians move into Australia is uncertain. But it is possible that this happened sometime between 45,000 and 40.000 years ago. This is supported by the archaeological finds of human remains near Lake Mungo.

Lake Mungo is a dry lake located in south-eastern Australia,in the south-western portion of New South Wales. It is at the Lake Mungo where a so called "Mungo Man and Mungo Lady" remains were found. Mungo Lady is particularly interesting. Mungo Lady, a partially cremated female body, was discovered in 1969 by Dr Jim Bowler from the Australian National University (ANU). Mungo Lady was only partially cremated before the remainder of her bones were crushed. She was initially estimated to be 25,000 years old, although a more recent multi-university study in 2003 determined that she was probably closer to 40,000 years old.

Mungo Man was also discovered by Dr Bowler, on 26 February 1974. The remains were covered with red ochre, in what is the earliest known incidence of such a burial practice. Red ochre is commonly used in burials for ritualistic purposes. The site was dating using OSL dating, or luminescence dating. The site is dated to be 60,000 years ago. If the fossils are actually from 60,000 years old, the fossils would be that of archaic Homo sapiens.

The different years for which artifacts and the remains were found puts into debate the actual time in which Australia was inhabited. If it was inhabited 60 thousand years or over, it puts in question the theory that all civilizations derived from Africa. If, however, Mungo Man and Mungo Lady truly are evidence that Australia has only been inhabited for about 50,000 years, the theory of Africa is stronger than ever. This would put Mungo Man and Mungo Lady's civilization in the same time frame as other cultures that were just beginning to settle outside of Africa.[5]

But regardless, it seems that at some stage between 65,000 and 40,000 years ago the Aboriginal Australians crossed into Australia, and have been isolated there from the rest of the world until the first Chinese and European explorers reached the continent not more than 500 years ago.

During that time they have been carefully preserving their beliefs through a complex set of rituals and stories which are today known as "Dreamtime". But it seems that the "Dreamtime" stories are not just mythologies, but are a mix of mythological stories and actual histories accumulated and preserved over who knows how many thousands of years.

The term Dreamtime is based on a rendition of the indigenous (Arandic) word "alcheringa", used by the Aranda (Arunta, Arrernte) people of Central Australia. The word actually has a meaning closer to "eternal, uncreated" or "so old that it seems that it has been here forever". In "Dreamtime" an individual's entire ancestry exists as one, culminating in the idea that all worldly knowledge is accumulated through one's ancestors. This is extremely good description of the accumulated  memories which were passed through direct contact from generation to generation through stories and rituals. 

And as I said, some of the Dreamtime memories could turn out to be actual ancient histories.  

The flood

"In the beginning, as far back as we remember, our home islands were not islands at all as they are today. They were part of a peninsula that jutted out from the mainland and we roamed freely throughout the land without having to get in a boat like we do today. Then Garnguur, the seagull woman, took her raft and dragged it back and forth across the neck of the peninsula letting the sea pour in and making our homes into islands."

This is a paraphrase of an Aboriginal story about the origin of the Wellesley Islands, a group of islands off the coast of north Queensland in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria:


This story has parallels along every part of the coast of Australia. Along the coast, Aboriginal stories written down early in colonial times talk about the ancient time when these areas were dry, a time when people hunted kangaroo and emu there, before the water rose and flooded them, never again to recede.

In a recent paper [8] presented at an indigenous language conference in Japan, Nick Reid, Associate Professor, School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England and Patrick D. Nunn, Assistant Director, Sustainability Research Centre; Professor of Geography, University of the Sunshine Coast analysed 18 stories from around Australia’s coast.

They found that all stories tell tales of coastal flooding and argued that these stories recall coastal inundation as sea levels started to rise after the last Ice Age.

During the coldest time of the last ice age about 20,000 years ago, the sea level around Australia stood about 120 metres below its present level. When the ice started to melt, a few thousand years later, huge masses of ice that had built up on the land, particularly in the northern hemisphere, began melting. Water poured into the world’s oceans, raising their levels in ways that are now well understood. By about 13,000 years ago, sea level had risen to around 70 metres below its present level. One thousand years later, it had risen to about 50 metres below present. These dates give us a ballpark for how old the Aborinial stories of flooding may be. Could they have reached us from 13,000 years ago?

I already mentioned the story about the Wellesley Islands. The local tribes from the Cairns area claim that they once lived “where the Great Barrier Reef now stands”. Their story states that the Fitzroy Island was once part of the mainland. 


And that the offshore Green Island was four times larger. 


The story describes several named landmarks with remembered historical-cultural associations that are now underwater.

During the last ice age this whole area which today lies between the Great Barrier reef and the Australian coast, would have comprised broad floodplains and undulating hills with a range of subsistence possibilities, bordered in most parts by steep cliffs plunging down to the narrow shore.

The Great Barrier reef has an average depth of 35 meters in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2000 meters. Based on these depths, the above stories about the flooding of the reef might date from as much as 12,000 years ago. A more conservative interpretation, based on a sea level just 30 meters lower than today, would place the age of this story at around 10,000 years ago.

Similar stories come from Spencer Gulf in southern Australia. 


Those from the Narrangga people of Yorke Peninsula recall the time when there was no Spencer Gulf, only “marshy country reaching into the interior” lying just above the ocean surface and dotted with “freshwater lagoons” where birds and other animals flocked.

One day the sea came in, perhaps through the breaching of a natural barrier, and the area has since been submerged. If these stories refer to flooding across the outermost lip of Spencer Gulf, which today lies around 50 metres below present sea level, then they may have originated 12,000 years ago. Even if they refer to inundation of the central part of the Gulf, they are likely to be more than 9,000 years old.

How sea levels changed after the ice ages around Australia is now well known. So if these stories are accepted as authentic and based on observations of coastal flooding, it is clear that they must be of extraordinary antiquity.

But believe or not these are not the oldest Dreamtime stories which could be actual ancient histories. 

The palms

This is Central Australian Cabbage Palm (Livistona mariae). 


How the only native palm tree in Australia got to an isolated Palm Valley in the center of the country has long been a mystery.


Recent research findings seem to back up Aboriginal legend on origin of these palms. Several years ago Tasmanian ecologist David Bowman from University of Tasmania, did DNA tests on palm seeds from the outback and near Darwin. The results led him to conclude the seeds were carried to the Central Desert by humans at some stage between 15,000 and 30,000 years ago. What is interesting is that after he published his findings, Professor Bowman read an Aboriginal legend recorded in 1894 by pioneering German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, which was only recently translated, describing the "gods from the north" bringing the seeds to Palm Valley.

Professor Bowman said he was amazed. 

"We're talking about a verbal tradition which had been transmitted through generations possibly for possibly 30,000 years," he said.

"Just an amazing coincidence that we'd independently concluded that the seeds had been transported and then subsequently we discover an Aboriginal legend is exactly what we found scientifically.

"The concordance of the findings of a scientific study and an ancient myth is a striking example of how traditional ecological knowledge can inform and enhance scientific research.

"It suggests that Aboriginal oral traditions may have endured for up to 30,000 years, and lends further weight to the idea that some Aboriginal myths pertaining to gigantic animals may be authentic records of extinct megafauna."

This is amazing. A 30,000 years old oral history??? But this is nothing compared to the Dreamtime story which explains the origin of the black swans. 

The swans

The Dreamtime story of the black swans tells how two brothers were turned into white swans so they could help an attack party during a raid for weapons. It is said that Wurrunna used a large gubbera, or crystal stone to transform the men. After the raid, eaglehawks attacked the white swans and tore feathers from the birds. Crows who were enemies of the eaglehawks came to the aid of the brothers and gave the black swans their own black feathers. The black swan red beak is said to be the blood of the attacked brothers, which stayed there forever.

This is truly an amazing story. Evidence suggests that swans evolved in Europe or western Eurasia during the Miocene (23.03 to 5.332 million years ago), spreading all over the Northern Hemisphere until the Pliocene (5.333 million to 2.58 million years ago). 

The swans are generally found in temperate environments, rarely occurring in the tropics. 

Four (or five) species occur in the Northern Hemisphere (all white).


One species is found in Australia and New Zealand (black).


And one species is distributed in southern South America (white with black neck).


The swans are absent from tropical Asia, Central America, northern South America and the entirety of Africa. This is the map that shows the natural distribution of swans in the world. 


Now you can see that there we have black swans in Australia ans white swans in the Central and Northern Asia. But no swans of any kind in the huge area between China and Australia. As we have seen from the evidence found in the lake Mungo site, Aboriginal Australians have crossed into Australia at least 40,000 years ago. We have also seen that the scientists believe that the mixing between the Denisovans and modern humans, which produced the ancestors of today's Aboriginal Australians, happened in the tropical parts of Asia at some stage before 45,000 years ago. 

Now there are no swans in tropical South East Asia, and the only swans that live in Australia are black swans. This means that the only swans Aboriginal Australians could have seen for over 45,000 years have been black swans. So where and more importantly when did they last see a white swan? Well somewhere on their way from Africa to South East Asia, at some stage between 75,000 and 45,000 years ago. This means that this Dreemtime story is more than 45,000 years old and could be as much as 60,000 years old....

How's this for the resilience of the oral tradition? What is measly 5000 years, which is how old I believe the story of Partholon's migration from the Irish Annals is, compared to the age of the Australian Dreamtime stories?

Why and how did Australian Aboriginal cultures achieve transmission of information about real events from such deep time? Professors Nick Reid and Patrick D. Nunn who wrote about the Aboriginal Australian flood myths suggested that: 

"The isolation of Australia is likely to be part of the answer. But it could also be due to the practice and nature of contemporary Aboriginal storytelling. This is characterised by a conservative and explicit approach to “the law”, value given to preserving information, and kin-based systems for tracking knowledge accuracy. This could have built the inter-generational scaffolding needed to transmit stories over vast periods."

And this is exactly the kind of environment that was found in Ireland. A close knit clan based community living for a long time in a relative isolation at the edge of Europe. No wonder that the Irish managed to preserve such old myths, legends, beliefs and histories  in Europe. 

I also believe that some European myths are much much older and come to us from Mesolithic and maybe even Paleolithic times. But more about this later...Until then stay happy and sweet dreams...

References:

1. "Outback palms were planted", David Bowman, University of Tasmania
2. "An Aboriginal Australian Genome Reveals Separate Human Dispersals into Asia", Rasmussen, Morten; et al.
3. "The first Aboriginal genome sequence confirms Australia's native people left Africa 75,000 years ago.". Australian Geographic. 23 September 2011.
4. "First Aboriginal genome sequenced", Callaway, Ewen. Nature.
5. "Pleistocene human remains from Australia: A living site and human cremation from Lake Mungo, western New South Wales", J. M. Bowlerab, Rhys Jonesab, Harry Allenab & A. G. Thorneab, World Archaeology
6. " Ducks, Geese and Swans. Bird Families of the World. ", Kear, Janet, ed
7. "DNA confirms Aboriginal culture is one of the Earth's oldest". Australian Geographic.
8. "Ancient Aboriginal stories preserve history of a rise in sea level", Nick Reid and Patrick D. Nunn




3 comments:

  1. ...and of course the druids are known to have transmitted their knowledge orally - with many years of learning necessary. It would seem to be a formalisation of normal fireside story telling for a specific purpous. We still have vestiges of this practice in how we teach children certain things in english, for example: the order of the days, months, imperial measures, 10x table: each set of data has a verse of lines to learn by heart.

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  2. I think you are correct about the realism of the Partholon myths. They do line up with the DNA evidence for the migrations of the Bronze Age Indo-Europeans.

    You are probably also correct regarding the preservation of history in the Australian Aborigines' myths. I have mentioned it before, but apropos the Aborigines, E. J. Michael Witzel in his "The Origins of World Mythologies" claims there are two great mythological traditions, an African/Australian one and a Eurasian/American one. If he is correct (seems likely to me), then the Australian Aborigines have preserved cultural elements going back 60,000 years, and the Amerindians traditions going back 40,000 years.

    I read some where that Eskimos in Canada or Greenland had preserved a detailed and highly accurate account of a European shipwreck for over 200 years.

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  3. I share your passion for the authentic roots of meaning hidden in language, folk ritual, and folk story. Somewhere I saw several years ago that the Aborigines also retained a story of a meteor or asteroid strike in central Australia which contained enough info to be trackable and proven accurate by a scientific study. It was tens of thousands of years old. Please keep up your posts into Celtic and world prehistory (I am Welsh and Scottish in ancestry, with Irish thrown in.) Thank you!

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