Herodotus Returns

Australian aboriginal rock art pushes back contact date with Southasia
July 24, 2010, 9:10 pm
Filed under: Australia, Rock Art | Tags: , , , , ,

Makassan traders arrived at the Australian coasts as early as the mid-1600s

Australian archaeologists have found rock art dating from the early 1600s that shows the arrival of south Asian ships. That obviously undermines the popular belief that the continent was completely disconnected from the outside world until British fleets arrived ‘Down Under’ in 1788.

Historians and archaeologists have speculated that visits to the northern parts of Australia from Southeast Asian ships have been happening for hundreds of years before European settlements.

Traders from Makassar (in what is now Indonesia) visited the coast of northern Australia dry and smoke the trepang – or sea cucumber – they caught, before taking their catch back to the Makassar and other Southeasian markets, where it was highly valued. At the hight of the ancient trepang trade, large fleets of Macassan ships would sail to Arnhem Land and stay for the entire monsoon season. The trade lasted up to the end of the 19th century.

Dr Stewart Fallon at ANU now radiocarbon dated the beeswax snake above the dug out canoe to between 1624 and 1674AD, meaning that this is a minimum age for the sailing vessel painting. The rock art evidence dates the visits back as early as the 17th century.

More from Heritage Key.


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