Friday, July 9, 2010
Who Discovered Australia!
Ancient discoverers of Australia
Or there’s a pyramid in my back paddock!
Evening and salutations to my growing hoard of devoted readers (both of them). Let me compliment you on your excellent selection of this blog to peruse from amongst the myriad wordings hovering expectantly in the ether.
I have recently been brushing up on my research on the discoverers of Australia. This is of course a fascinating subject and one I hope to pursue in depth when I get published.
To any publishers and agents out there, this is a not so subtle hint that there are bucks to be made getting my good self into print – ps look at 1421, more on that later. But enough of that shameless self promotion, back to the theme of this discussion.
Who did discover Australia?
Now I remember learning in school four odd decades ago, about our historical discoverers, especially in the year 1970 when all Australians celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the Captain Cook expedition. We even minted a special fifty cent piece, which I sure I can find if I diligently searched through my dusty archived childhood coin collection. But that is a digression – we will cover the true place and achievements of Captain Cook at little later. In the meantime on to more contentious issues. Who exactly can reasonably be credited with the first discovery of the southern continent?
Ptolemy's map a 1467 version
The most reliable and decipherable ancient sources are various ancient Greek and Roman writers on geography. Herodotus, Ptolemy and Strabo are the most quoted. In their books they speculated on the existence of a Terra Australis (Great Southern Land), though at this distance in time it is difficult to judge whether their information was based on actual reports from passing traders, or on myth and sailors hearsay. Other writers, especially up to the Middle Ages, tended to be less specific and more fanciful in their speculations, including the more common reports of tribes of strange men with heads in the centre of their chests or of walking trees. Then when it came to discussing the condition of the great oceans, their reports always included a selection of ship devouring kraken, floating islands and luscious, and with any luck, lascivious mermaids. While this provides great background for many fantasy novels, it couldn’t in any way be regarded as accurate, though the curious part of these accounts is that sometimes the shadow of something substantial can be discerned through the fog of dragons. However they should never be taken as fact or used as hard evidence to claim earlier discoveries.
At this point I realise that this discussion is going to take a few sessions so let’s look at this as part 1.
The Ancient Discoverers of Australia. Or there’s a Pyramid in my back paddock!
Ancient Egyptian mine and temple in the Sinai
Here we shall examine and hopefully put to rest a few myths.
Firstly the Egyptians.
According to the internet, some self proclaimed experts reckoned that the continent of Australia was positively crawling with Bronze Age Egyptians who stripped the gold, silver and gems from this great southern mineral repository. Some of these distinguished gentlemen have even written books about their fabulous discoveries. Dozens of ruins, hundreds of idols and thousands of inscriptions. Most startling of all, apparently we have up to seven pyramids scattered across the country side. And we didn’t even realise it!
I mean, you can just picture it.
Ancient Egyptian priests
Go back three thousand years. Two Egyptian priests are strolling through the rugged Australian bush, dressed in pleated linen kilts, nattily corn rowed wigs and besplendidly kohled eyelids clambering over remote and inaccessible cliffs. Then all of a sudden they halt and one turns to his companion and points meaningfully at an uncleared patch of scrub in front of them. “Well, damn me Imhotep, isn’t this a spiffing place to wack up a pyramid, what?”
“I say Sekhmet, by Thoth, I think you’ve got it! Just look at this place! If I refer to my handy astronomical scroll, I believe we’ll find it corresponds perfectly with all the ley lines and heavenly constellations.”
By Crikey, won’t the Pharaoh be pleased – another pyramid!” chortles the first priest.
“What’s that make it Imhotep – seven?”
His companion sadly shakes his head. “No Sekhmet old chap, six by my count.”
The first priest is visibly staggered by the news. “Hows that Imhotep? I could’ve have sworn we’ve built seven.”
The Plans? Damned Architects!!!
“No, no Sekhmet. You really can’t count the one we built in that tidal estuary in Pharaohland up north by the gold mine. It did sink after all!”
“Oh well, I suppose six it is then.” replies Imhotep reluctantly, before rallying to the task. “When do you want to start this one?”
However all is not so rosy – Sekhmet is still shaking his head. “Well old chap, I’m sorry to say we can’t possibly manage it till some time next solar cycle.”
“What! That outrageous! Why not?” Imhotep is aghast at this dreadful revelation.
His friend patiently explains the complex issues surrounding the imminent non construction. “Well you see old chap, we just don’t have the navvies for it.”
This simple explanation doesn’t cut the mustard with Imhotep who waves urgently back towards the rising dust cloud of their last construction site.
“But we’ve got thousands of the blighters lounging around. Surely we can spare a few hundred to get it started?”
His passionate gestures fail to move a frowning Sekhmet. “Fraid not old bean. What with the gold mines, the roads, the temples, the port construction, the food transport and this abysmally hot weather we just can’t spare them.”
Imhotep stamps his foot, coincidentally crushing one of those large black spiders that infest this region. This cannot be! The will of the Lord of the Nile cannot be hindered by paltry excuses. Then he has a sudden flash of inspiration. “What about those dark chappies? The local indigenous? Can’t we round up a thousand or so of them?
“Sorry tried that. Damned surly bunch these natives. Can’t get a decent days slaving out of them. A taste of the lash and they scarper off back into the bush.” Sekhmet gave the kind of shrug that spoke of hours of fruitless flogging.
Imhotep, clearly frustrated, was not going to let this lie. “Well damn me, we’ll just have to requisition another thousand slaves from Punt.” He was not going to be dissuaded from his appointed task by mere details. It was a sacred duty – pyramids must be built!
Sekhmet was of a different frame of mind, more practical for a start. Almost hesitantly he raised one more minor flaw in the divine plan.
“Ahh, my dear fellow, I fear we may have a few difficulties with that. No ships.”
“What! We had fifty yesterday! They can’t have disappeared overnight!”
“You see, those Phoenician wallahs who do the transport have jacked up and want to double the insurance rate. Something about vast reefs and lurking kraken and all that kind of rot.”
As expected Imhotep splutters into a new round of the argument.
And so on, and so forth…
I think we’ll leave the rest of the discussion to the imagination.
Back to our ancient discoverers. For some deeply felt reason, our ancestors had this driving urge to build upwards. In Egypt it was pyramids, in Britain artificial mounds like Avesbury, while in the Fertile Crescent it was ziggurats. All of these were great feats of construction, engineering and design. As their descendents and inheritors, we should feel justifiably proud of these achievements, all built, I may add, completely without the help of any grey, blue or slightly pinkish aliens. Now this cultural devotion also extended to different styles of religious temple complexes. Whether those were based on astronomical calculations or lunar and solar events is still up for debate. However both these kinds of projects required a great deal of social and cultural organisation for a long period of time, possibly spanning centuries. Hang on you say, isn’t this straying from the ancient discoverers of Australia theme? Well yes and no. This short segment is to provide the background for our area of discussion and now we venture into the realms of the present.
Need I say anything?
I am sure most of you have had some experience of building, whether its having worked in the construction industry, a DIY project or at least walked past a building site, and even glanced at a piccie of one in any number of home improvement magazines. Apart from our probable common ancestry on the plains of Africa, it is a unifying factor for modern humanity – we like to build, and we like to build allot! However, as you have probably noticed, this construction drive is a terribly messy practice and every job acquires piles of discarded rubbish, including excess concrete, broken tiles, bent nails, the carpenters’ McDonalds snack containers and even the odd Snickers wrappers. Now this mess can’t just lie around, ruining the landscape so a significant word (so long as it includes the words ‘no payment’) to the site manager and all this detritus magically disappears overnight. There simple – happy satisfied clients,that is so long as they don’t want to plant roses or any other toxin sensitive flowering shrub in the front garden, or the side lawn or excavated by the back fence and so on.
Archaeologist's 'McDonalds wrapper'
Now being that we are all afflicted by certain common traits of human nature, what makes you think the ancient Egyptians were any more scrupulous in tidying up? This is a fact of history and a rich haul for archaeologists, since ancient middens and rubbish heaps are their modern day treasure troves. Thus broken pots, as well as the discarded lunch wrappers of yesteryear have been the foundation of many careers. The careful excavation of their contents have told us that Egyptian pyramid and tomb workers liked beer, dates, fish, wheat porridge and it seems making snide remarks about the overseer and the client (via messages scratched on bits of pot). This sifting of acres and acres of accumulated rubbish left over from the pyramids and tombs has kept historians, archaeologists and Egyptologists from all the major universities, antiquarian societies and museums, busy for a hundred and fifty years, organising digs every season. Even distant institutions like Macquarie University in Sydney have had an ongoing site for the past thirty years. Believe it or not, even after all this frenzied activity there are still thousands of sites unexplored or unsurveyed.
Okay I think we have set the scene. Building temples and other ancient structures, even for a few generations, generates a lot of waste. So much that anyone with a modicum of training or at least a few archaeological reference books on pottery styles, should be capable of identifying their location. In fact it is pottery and the decendant of a famous explorer of Australia, Mathew Flinders Petrie, (the irrepressable Mathew Flinders of circumnavigating Australia fame, was his grandfather) who come up with a simple way of cataloguing pottery by style and placement at the dig site to give an accurate date to excavated layers. That’s why Time Team go birko when they find any pottery shards. Yoo hoo – instant dating!
Ahem... where are the mummies???
Thus we finally come to Australia and its plethora of pyramids and temples and those who identified them. How did they do that you ask? Well it appears that one expert in particular is responsible for large number of claims, he also runs an “Archaeological” Research Centre. This gentleman has single handedly found dozens of relics and remnants. In fact it seems that every time he goes for a walk in the bush anywhere in the country he literally trips over the stuff just begging to be found – stone tools, megalithic temples, acres of carved inscription, wouldn’t you know, the place is just lousy with it. Amazing! Absolutely incredible! Astounding and several more words to that effect. A brief survey of his website (type in Yowie, UFO and Egyptians in the Google boxes and see what comes up) and online ‘research’ journal will give you the general idea. However in all his discoveries our gentleman appears a bit hard up on the kind of physical evidence usually accepted as valid. Unfortunately all he has to offer are a few freshly carved rough stone heads and a scattering of Egyptian touristy style scarabs. Now at this stage my discerning reader will of course ask, well what about the pots? What pots? Why the ones used by the dozen everyday for water or beer or cooking. The ones they dig up by the bucket full on any archaeological site. The ones that prove beyond a doubt that someone lived and worked there, in short – builders rubbish. Well unfortunately there aren’t any at all, so we must assume that the visiting Egyptians went completely native scorning the use of any pottery items in favour of grass baskets.
Grave goods abscent from OZ
Now what did they put in those grass baskets, any wheat or grains? Perhaps some dates, certainly not beer or wine since they didn’t have pots. Now we come to another difficulty. They couldn’t have eaten any of their usual foods since we haven’t found any remnant grains, date palms, oxen, donkeys or camels (except for the ones we introduced in the 1860s). That means the Egyptians would have had to slaughter the native wildlife by the tens of thousand to feed all these workers busy building the pyramids, ports and temples. Of course that would leave evidence of massive kill and cooking sites and either flint, copper or bronze arrow and spear heads by the kilo. Unless they all ate fish. However those aboriginal shell middens we’ve been excavating for decades would have coughed up a hefty layer of non-native items.
So scratch the physical evidence.
I could resist it an 'instant' UFO crop circle at Silbury
Thus we come to the last reason to discount any ancient Egyptian discoverers. Why would they come here, the most furtherest corner of the globe (apart from Antarctica)? Why gold we are told! What, did they run out of gold in Punt (believed to be on the East African coast)? I don’t think so. The Arab traders were still pulling it out in the 1500’s with no signs of running out. Maybe it was spices? Ahh no – we didn’t have any. That was India and the Spice Islands to the north. Perhaps it was our superb exotic timber? Probably not, once more there were until recently thousands of square miles of teak, ebony, rosewood and cinnabar in Africa and Asia. Someone else mentioned tin, the essential ingredient in bronze as a justification. It’s a pity then that the trade routes to Britain and India were closer and the natives were happy enough to do all the hard work like mining and refining.
A phoenican-egyptian stone figure allegedly 'discovered' in OZ
Finally we come to the supposed physical objects. A quick stroll through the Internet archives and message boards gives a very good indication of the same pieces of carving, scarabs and coins recycled as proof of ancient Egyptians. Now I hate to be so cynical towards my fellow man but don’t you find it a tad strange that these items are always discovered in complete isolation or found at the bottom of an improbably deep hole conveniently dug for a well or foundation. I mean if this was a NCIS investigation and a friend’s life depended on its credibility, would you believe the presented evidence? (As a general rule when faking hieroglyphs don’t use modern steel tools or cut through a hundred year old lichen – do a search for the Gosford glyphs and see what I mean)
So in conclusion I would have to rule out the ancient Egyptians as discoverers of Australia. So if you do think you’ve found a pyramid in the back paddock, I’d do a bit of serious checking before announcing it to the world.
Bye all and as the doctor says – take the damned pills!