Australia & Aboriginal Culture

Australian Aboriginal Prehistoric Sites

The earliest evidences for life on Earth from Australia is 3.48 billion years old only slightly bet by 3.7 billion years old from Greenland.

500,000 Years Ago – Canberra (Australia), found zigzag pattern engraved on shells likely by Homo erectus showing that they were capable of producing things seeming to hold abstract thought. Also found was a polished shell that may have been used as a cutting or scraping tool, itself demonstrating the technological use of varied items. These finds could be needed evidence, which is like a doorway into cognitive advancements in creativity long before modern humans.

75,000 – 55,000 Years Ago – (Australia), found evidence that the Aborigines are descendants of people who left Africa, before Asians and Europeans became distinct groups. Moreover, genetic analysis and archaeological evidence has shown Aborigines inhabited Australia for 55,000 years and human remains dated to about 45,000 years ago found near Lake Mungo help further support this conclusion.

60,000 Years Ago – Lake Mungo (Australia) found mitochondrial DNA evidence from a 60,000 year-old-male so primitive that it raises questions some believed recent African origin for humans showing we may need to rethink how we came to be modern humans. A main theory multiregionalism, which suggests that people coming from Africa interbred with earlier humans already living in in other places. Of course, these earlier humans “our ancestors” first arose in Africa, then around 100,000 years ago or so then spread throughout the world and subsequent later humans mixed with the more primitive humans leading to us. While the “Out of Africa” is, most often addressed but this was not the exclusive direction, over the past 200,000 years of human origination as humans that left went back “Into Africa” as well. In fact, Y chromosome DNA of some Africans was introduced from Asia, where it originated somewhere around 200,000 years ago. Y chromosome DNA seems to point that human lineage could be possibly traced to a single population living in somewhere in Africa about 60,000 years ago. The African origins hypothesis to some involve further define or understand gene flow if it occurred over the course of 200,000 or 2 million years.

44,000 Years Ago – Lake Mungo (Australia), found evidence of a burial that seems to have a ritual nature as it was sprinkled with lots of red ochre. The use of red ochre in burial evidence by ancient Australians it could have been brought along with them as part of religious rituals or burial rights from Africa.

40,000+ Years Ago – (Africa) found evidence in DNA testing that the ancestors of the modern human hunter-gatherers bred with different species of hominins in the distant past, probably more than 40,000 years ago. This adds to previous evidence that humans living in Africa interbred with species of hominins that are now extinct which is similar to evidence that humans elsewhere outside of Africa interbred with other hominins specifically Denisovan and Neanderthal extinct species in the genus Homo. We are not unique in this as DNA testing reveals that Neanderthal and Denisovan interbreed as well. Denisovan genetics found in both Asia and indigenous America appear to contain about 25 times less Denisovan contributions then Papua New Guinea and Australia populations. Approximately 4% of non-African modern humans is shared with Neanderthals, and between 4% to 6% of the genome of Melanesians, and to a lesser extent Australian Aborigines, and smaller scattered groups of people in South-East Asia and around 0.2%. mainland Asians and Native Americans have DNA lineages that come from a Denisovan. Moreover, up to 2% of the African hunter-gatherer genomes show a closely related yet unknown hominins species, further raising the question if modern humans came from a single, genetically isolated population of hominins or whether we are a genetic mix of various hominin species. The educated guess would be that we are mixed. Why this is important beyond the dispersal of religious ideas is because of genetics. The seeming evidence of varied and shared hominid genetics goes against the creationists’ claims that humans were created in their original form. It also debunks the flood stories because there would not be the wide genetic differences with such as limited bottleneck of persons especially when you attach the claim that such an event happened so recent in archaeological time.

40,000 Years Ago – Lake Mungo (Australia), found evidence of modern human remains consisting of three sets of bodies buried in a ritualized fashion seeming to demonstrate some religious significance or context. Lake Mungo 1 (called Mungo Lady) one of the earliest known human to have been cremated, then smashed, then burned a second time before being liberally covered with ochre. This could have suggested a ritual trying to ensure that the dead were sent off to the afterlife or maybe it was done to make the dead not return to haunt them. Lake Mungo 2 (LM2) a man whose bones had been painted with red ochre and Lake Mungo 3 (called Mungo Man) dying at about 50 then buried lying on his back, with hands interlocked over his groin and sprinkled with red ochre. Red ochre does not occur naturally in Lake Mungo so it had been brought to this area seeming to show its ritual use had to hold a high significance. However, evidence of human habitation around Lake Mungo is as much as 50,000 years old. Results of DNA shows Australia was populated by modern humans through south Asia following the “Southern Route”. The findings indicate that a group of hunter-gatherers moved from the Horn of Africa, across the mouth of the Red Sea into Arabia and southern Asia at least 50 000 years ago.

40,000 years old rock art in the Kimberley previously dated at 17,500 years old and with a minimum of about 16,400 years ago supports ideas that the origins of art making are a fundamental human behavior which began with our most ancient ancestors in Africa rather than Europe. If the considerations of the evidence is right it has implications not only for Southeast Asian and European rock art but Australian rock art as well. This is because Australia’s oldest surviving rock art also consists of naturalistic animals, which could show it to was brought from Africa as well. Putting this seeming global connectedness in rock art is then to consider the origins and functions of the art in terms of two very broad categories: art intended to portray visionary or altered states of consciousness imagery (shamanic); and motifs made to illustrate other subjects and/or created for other reasons (non-shamanic). This distinction roughly, but imperfectly, parallels the difference between shamanic and non-shamanic religions. Shamanistic rock art commonly portrays visionary imagery; symbolizing, in a general sense, a supernatural experience or event. Despite this commonality and depending upon cultural context, the shamanistic rock art was made for a variety of purposes by a full range of social and gender groups beyond the shaman alone. Shamanism is part of a broader trend in early prehistory and is still found in contemporary peoples as well. The common aspects of many shamanic belief systems are: 1) the concept of the three-tiered world with an upper world (world of spirits), middle world (world of living), and underworld (world of the dead) often linked by some natural aspect as a representation such as a tree, pillar, mountain, lake, or river; 2) the world is perceived as inhabited by supernatural beings; 3) nature is perceived as a ‘giving environment’, lacking the dichotomization of nature and culture of modern worldviews; 4) ideas of reciprocal relations with animals and the animals need to be treated with respect in order that they continue to give themselves up to the hunter; 5) the concept of the soul as possessed by both humans and animals; 6) the shaman or shamaness (female shaman) is preceded as a religious specialist and mediator between the worlds; and 7) the importance of animals.

40,000 – 30,000 Years Ago – Laura, Queensland (Australia), found evidence at Sandy Creek Shelter cupules “cut cup-holes” and cut marks thought to represent vulva-forms are found through the world on every continent and some of the oldest rock art is linear grooves and cupules, often ignored as utilitarian rock markings. Engraved or incised cups or pits may hold different, similar, or connected meaning and within the limits of Native California alone there seems to have been three ritual origins and known purposes. In Northern California, cupules were called ‘rain-rocks’ and they were made by shamans to bring either rain or the wind ceremony conducted by shamans making non-visionary rock art. In Central California (in the San Francisco Bay region), so-called ‘pit-and-groove’ rocks known as ‘baby rocks’ were created during a private fertility rite. This shamanistic ritual was done mainly by women having a difficulty conceiving who would rub the rocks collect the dust as there was a belief supernatural power existed within rocks, which was placed in the woman’s vagina and sometimes on other parts of both people prior to intercourse. In south-central California and the Great Basin girls also made cupules during puberty initiations by grinding briefly in all of the cups on a given rock, the girls were said to reconnect with all of the earlier and older women of the tribe. All of this represents non-visionary art created by shamans and non-shamans within the context of shamanistic cultures and thus means hypothetically we can conceive that other cupules may be more than just art and may have some connections too religion. Moving further we can look to Hawaiian women preform a ritual following childbirth for the baby’s health by preserving the umbilical cord and creating cupule symbolic of the bellybutton and thus the child’s connection to its mother. Again we can see cupules and similar kinds of rock art worldwide many also have ritual origins or functions. The vulva-form motifs are mostly seen as engravings on stone, bone, or ivory as well as paintings and though found worldwide are almost invariably interpreted as evidence of fertility rituals of some kind. To support this reasoning we can look to Polynesian girls’ puberty ceremonies involved a ‘clitoris stretching’ ceremony, for example, after which an engraved ‘portrait’ of the girl’s genitalia was created.

39,900 – 30,000 Years Ago – Sulawesi (Indonesia), found 39.000 year old cave art including stencils of hands one of which and found crude stone tools are thought to date to perhaps 50,000 years old and a modern human settlement dated to 30,000 years old is the main proof of occupation but the island almost certainly formed part of the land bridge used for the settlement of Australia and New Guinea by at least 40,000 years ago. Cave art and harpoon tips seem to point to likely African roots and that as well as other cave painting suggests that art may have been universal among early modern people, including those who left Africa and traveled across southern Arabia to Indonesia and Australia within the past 50,000 years. Rock art is a global phenomenon found across the world from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America. This leaves uncertain the form and nature of the original ancient Australian Aboriginal religion(s), though another analysis suggests that shamanism may have been responsible for some of the early rock art on the continent. In northern Australia, rock art depicts what appear to be duels between two or a few individuals as early as 10,000 years ago and large group confrontations or war appear by 6,000 years ago.

20,000 years ago and befor Aboriginal people were had spread through the entire continent of Australia caring their cultural and religious thinking and behaviors with them. At around 15,000 – 12,000 years ago at Kow Swamp in Northern Victoria, Aborigines where wearing kangaroo teeth headbands similar to those worn by men and women in the Central Desert in the 19th century. Land bridges between mainland Australia and Tasmania are flooded. Tasmanian Aboriginal people become isolated for the next 13,000 to 12,000 years.

12,000 years ago Australia, the aboriginal cave paintings of beehives. Bees can be misinterpreted as representing other, more esoteric or otherworldly creatures. For instance, spiraling circles appear frequently in rock art, and on occasion have been interpret to represent planetary alignments or symbols of advanced civilizations. In Australia, there is rock art in the form of spiraling circles from the sacred storehouse of Australia Honey Ant shamans, who hunted Honey Ants as the only source of honey in an otherwise dry and arid desert landscape. The rocks are located in a valley where shamans performed rituals designed to increase their supply of honey, for the sacred nectar provided a variety of medicinal and nutritional uses. Ironically, the conical images hints at the origins of the ancient Labyrinth design, a structure that played an important role in Egyptian, Greek, and of course, Atlantian mythology, cultures that venerated the bee. Therefore, as always, bee mythology, like all mythology, is just trying to turn magic properties out of non-magic nature.

9,000 – 7,000 years ago Australia, Earliest visible evidence of Aboriginal Religion connected with the rainbow Serpent. 8,000 The Torres Strait Islands are formed when the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea is submerged by rising seas. The Luritja people, native to the remote deserts of central Australia, once told stories about a fire devil coming down from the Sun, crashing into Earth and killing everything in the vicinity. The local people feared if they strayed too close to this land they might reignite some otherworldly creature. The legend describes the crash landing of a meteor in Australia’s Central Desert about 4,700 years ago, says University of New South Wales (UNSW) astrophysicist Duane Hamacher. The Aboriginal people of Victoria had developed a varied and complex set of languages, tribal alliances and trading routes, beliefs and social customs that involved totemism, superstition, initiation and burial rites, and tribal moeties that regulated sexual relationships and marriage. Ayers Rock is also known by its Aboriginal name ‘Uluru’. It is a sacred part of Aboriginal creation mythology, or dreamtime – reality being a dream. Uluru is considered one of the great wonders of the world and one of Australia’s most recognizable natural icons. Uluru is a large magnetic mound large not unlike Silbury Hill in England. It is located on a major planetary grid point much like the Great Pyramid in Egypt. But for most Aborigines, spiritual beliefs are derived from a sense of belonging-to the land, to the sea, to other people and to one’s culture. Ayers Rock is a large sandstone rock formation in central Australia, in the Northern Territory. Traditional Aboriginal people regard all land as sacred, and the songs must be continually sung to keep the land “alive” and the Dreaming Spirits “also deposited the spirits of unborn children and determined the forms of human society,” thereby establishing tribal law and totemic paradigms.

4,000 year old Aboriginal Rock Art western Australia demonstrating Aboriginal Wandjina style rock art, shamanistic/totemistic/anamnestic painted image depicting cloud and rain spirits from Australian Aboriginal mythology that are depicted prominently in rock art in Australia. Wandjina created the landscape and its inhabitants, and continue to have influence over both. When the spirits found the place they would die, they painted their images on cave walls and entered a nearby waterhole. These paintings were then refreshed by Aborigines as a method of regenerating life force. The Wandjina can punish those who break the law with floods, lightning and cyclones. Australian Aboriginal myths (also known as Dream time or Dreaming stories, songlines, or Aboriginal oral literature) are the stories traditionally performed by Aboriginal peoples within each of the language groups across Australia. The spirits are depicted alone or in groups, vertically or horizontally depending on the dimensions of the rock, and are sometimes depicted with figures and objects like the Rainbow Serpent or yams. Common composition is with large upper bodies and heads that show eyes and nose, but typically no mouth. Two explanations have been given for this: they are so powerful they do not require speech and if they had mouths, the rain would never cease. Around the heads of Wandjina are lines or blocks of color, depicting lightning, clouds or rain. All such “Dreamtime” myths variously “tell significant truths within each Aboriginal group’s local landscape. They effectively layer the whole of the Australian continent’s topography with cultural nuance and deeper meaning, and empower selected audiences with the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of Australian Aboriginal ancestors back to time immemorial” A key aspect of Australian aboriginal belief is the Dreaming. At the heart of this is the belief in powerful beings who arose out of the land, created or gave birth to people, plant life and animal life, and connected particular groups of people with particular regions and languages. The Dreaming beings continue to control the natural world, but their willingness to release the powers of fertility depends upon people continuing to perform certain rituals. “the Dreaming,” or “Dreamtime,” a complex and comprehensive concept embodying the past, present, and future as well as virtually every aspect of life. After their physical death and transformation into heavenly or earthly bodies, the indestructible creative beings withdrew from the earth into the spiritual realm. As the Aborigines understand it, the Dreaming beings retained control of all power and fertility, which they would release automatically into the human realm as long as humans followed their blueprint; this included the regular performance of rituals to ensure a continued flow of life-giving power. Spirit beings were used as messengers to communicate with the living and to introduce new knowledge into human society. Through dreams and other states of altered consciousness, the living could come into contact with the spiritual realm and gain strength from it. Diverse features of the landscape provided tangible proofs of the reality and world-creating powers of the Dreaming beings, and a rich complex of myths, dances, rituals, and objects bound the human, spiritual, and physical realms together into a single cosmic order. Despite the uncertainties involved in getting a living, the Aborigines had a strong sense of self and a religious confidence in their ability to cope with, and control, their physical and social world. People are believed to possess spirits which originate from the dreaming. As children grow up they undergo a variety of rites of passage which initiate them into adulthood. Boys would be subjected to practices such as, circumcision, subincision into the urethra, blood letting or tooth pulling. Girls would be ritually decorated, and subject to partial seclusion or food taboos. Totemism was also important to the aboriginal world view. The representation of mythic or living beings was seen to provide the means to access the spiritual powers of the Dreaming. Australian aboriginal religion. The oldest remaining art forms are engravings on cave walls of animals or people. In New South Wales large sculptures engraved in trees have been found. Smaller artefacts such as baskets, shields, boomerangs contain various abstract forms or animals such as snakes and fish. Over their long history, a complex and rich Aboriginal mythology has evolved. It has been passed down from generation to generation. This mythology is known as the Dreamtime (Alchera) Legends. The Dream-time is the mystical time during which the Aborigines’ ancestors established their world. These myths from ancient times are accepted as a record of absolute truth. They dominate the cultural life of the people. The adult males of the estate group were the principal guardians of its sacred sites and objects and organized appropriate rituals to renew and sustain the land. A child’s spirit was held to come from the Dreaming to animate a fetus. In some cases this was believed to occur through an action of a mythic being who might or might not be reincarnated in the child. Even when Aborigines acknowledged a physical bond between parents and child, the most important issue for them was the spiritual heritage. Circumcision was one of the most important rites over the greater part of Australia. Subincision (incisura of the urethra) was especially significant in its association with secret-sacred ritual. Other rites included piercing of the nasal septum, tooth pulling (in New South Wales this was central in initiation), and the blood rite, which involved bloodletting from an arm vein or a penis incisura—the blood being used for anointing or sipping (red ochre was used as a substitute for blood in some cases). Hair removal, cicatrization (scarring), and playing with fire were also fairly widespread practices. All such rites were usually substantiated by mythology. For girls, puberty was marked by either total or partial seclusion and by food taboos (also applied to male novices). Afterward they were decorated and ritually purified. Ritual defloration and hymen cutting were practiced in a few areas, but in general puberty among girls was not ritually celebrated. There are many myths of the Dreamtime. One tells how the sun was made, long ago in Dreamtime there was no sun, and the people had to search for food in the dim light of the moon. One day, an emu and a crane started quarreling. In a rage, the crane ran to the emu’s nest and snatched one of its huge eggs. She flung the egg high into the sky, where it shattered and the yolk burst into flames. This caused such a huge fire that its light revealed for the first time the beauty of the world below. When the spirits up in the sky saw this great beauty, they decided that the inhabitants should have this light each day. So, every night, the sky-people collected a pile of dry wood, ready to be set afire as soon as the morning star appeared. But a problem arose. If the day was cloudy, the star could not be seen and no one lit the fire. So the sky people asked the Kookaburra, who had a loud, braying laugh, to call them every morning. When the bird’s laugh was first heard, the fire in the sky was lit but threw out little heat or light. By noon, when all the wood was burning, the heat was more intense. Later, the fire slowly died down until the sun had set. It is a strict rule of the Aboriginal tribes that nobody may imitate the Kookaburra’s call, because that could offend the bird and it could remain silent. Then darkness would again descend upon the earth and its inhabitants.

Dreamtime, which is generally understood as traditional Aboriginal religion, revolves around the Dreamtime. Totems are also an important part of Aboriginal religious identity. Totems are symbols from the natural world that serve to identify people and their relationships with one another in the social world. For instance, a family or clan may be associated with a certain bird. That bird’s nature, whether it is ferocious or peaceful, a bird of prey or a songbird, is associated with the family or clan that uses it as its totem. The religious world of the Aboriginal Australians is inhabited by ghosts of the dead, as well as a variety of spirits who control certain aspects of the natural world, such as the Rainbow Serpent, who brings rain. Rituals are performed to placate these spirits and also to increase the fertility of certain species of animals that are important to the Aborigines. Since the colonization of Australia, many Aboriginal people have converted to Christianity, either by choice or through the influence of education in mission schools. For generations, European colonists would remove children from Aboriginal families and send them to Christian schools. This practice was thought to be in the best interests of the Aborigines. Resentment over these kidnappings is still strong. In some Aboriginal societies, there were both male and female rituals that marked the passage from childhood to adulthood.

Ceremonial boomerangs probably originated as flat pointed sticks in the Barrow Creek to Tennant Creek region. An addition of the three-barred black design over a background of white dots was enough to shift the object to a sacred one. The painted end was held aloft during ceremonies. Ceremonial boomerangs where usually painted in ochres which have a religion connection to Africa and many places throughout the world (a hidden red ochre religion). Ochre is the earliest known pigment used by humans to paint our world–perhaps as long ago as 300,000 years ago. Natural iron-rich oxides provided red-yellow-brown paints and dyes for a wide range of prehistoric uses, including but in no way limited to rock art paintings, pottery, wall paintings and cave art, and human tattoos. Other documented or implied uses are as medicines, as a preservative agent for animal hide preparation, and as a ​loading agent for adhesives (called mastics). Ochre is often associated with human burials: for example, the Upper Paleolithic cave site of Arene Candide has an early use of ochre at a burial of a young man 23,500 years ago. The site of Paviland Cave in the UK, dated to about the same time, had a burial so soaked in red ochre he was (somewhat mistakenly) called the “Red Lady”. Boomerangs on the islands off the north Australian coast were usually used only for ceremony, as “wangal” clapsticks or as ceremonial dance props. The Aboriginal Wangal people were part of the Eora (a.k.a. Dharawal, Darug, Dharuk) language speaking group, who contributed to contemporary Australian English words like dingo, woomera, wallaby, wombat, and waratah. Sydney’s geomorphology 20,000 years ago was very different to what it is today. In the middle of the last ice age, the Sydney coast was around 9 miles to the east and what is now Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) was freshwater creeks and rivers. Wangal predecessors would have been living in the now-submerged coastal area. As sea levels rose to their present levels, peoples living on the coast would have been forced inland. Painted forms of a rare hooked boomerang has no direct evidence of its use in hunting nor used in fighting but defiantly was used ceremonially in the Cooper Creek region.

Death in Aboriginal Australian societies was accompanied by complex rituals. Among the Walpiri of central Australia, a wife would have to isolate herself from the rest of the community upon the death of her husband. She would live in a “widows’ camp” for a period of one to two years. During that time she would communicate through a system of sign language. She was not permitted to speak during this period. If a woman chose not to follow these traditions, her husband’s ghost could steal her soul, which would lead to her death. Ceremonial boomerangs are richly decorated with Aboriginal artwork, relating specifically to the corroboree or ceremony they are being used in. Depictions of boomerangs being thrown at animals such as kangaroos appear in some of the oldest rock art in the world, the Indigenous Australian rock art of the Kimberly region, which is potentially up to 40,000 years old. The early history of the first peoples is held within an oral tradition, archeological evidence and petroglyphs. Stencils and paintings of boomerangs also appear in the rock art of West Papua, including on Bird’s Head Peninsula and Kaimana, likely dating to the Last Glacial Maximum when lower sea levels led to cultural continuity between Papua and Arnhem Land in Northern Australia. The oldest surviving Australian Aboriginal boomerangs come from a cache found in a peat bog in the Wyrie Swamp of South Australia and date to 10,000 years ago. The existence of boomerangs is a weapon used by Indigenous Australians for hunting considered possible within ancient Europe Poland 23,000-year-old piece of curved mammoth tusk that some ancient artisan carved into the aerodynamic shape of a boomerang found in a cave in southern Poland with other human artifacts, Germany 800-400 BC), Egypt 4,000 yeas ago, India, America, Middle East, but there is no proof that these throwing sticks had ability to come back to the thrower. Australian boomerang specimens have been found in deposits that suggest they are about 10,000 years old, but evidence that humans have been using the devices for thousands of years has also come from Asia, Africa and North America. in Jutland, has been given a 5,000 B.C. date and curved throwing sticks related to the boomerang were used by people as diverse as the Eskimos, Hopi and Polynesians. oak boomerang from 300 B.C. was found in a bog in Holland. Historical evidence also points to the use of non-returning boomerangs by the Native Americans of California and Arizona, and inhabitants of southern India for killing birds and rabbits. Indeed, some boomerangs were not thrown at all, but were used in hand to hand combat by Indigenous Australians. Boomerangs can be variously used as hunting weapons, percussive musical instruments, battle clubs, fire-starters, decoys for hunting waterfowl, and as recreational play toys. The smallest boomerang may be less than 10 centimetres (4 in) from tip to tip, and the largest over 180 centimetres (6 ft) in length. Tribal boomerangs may be inscribed and/or painted with designs meaningful to their makers. Papunya art consists of various paint colors like yellow (representing the sun), brown (the soil), red (desert sand) and white (the clouds and the sky). These are traditional Aboriginal colours. Papunya paintings can be painted on anything though traditionally they were painted on rocks, in caves, etc. The paintings were mostly images of animals or lakes, and the Dreamtime. Stories and legends were depicted on caves and rocks to represent the artists’ religion and beliefs. The Aboriginal community of Yirrkala, just outside Nhulunbuy, is internationally known for bark paintings the imagery of the Aboriginal culture, depicted in ceremonial body art and many of the sacred sites, rock and cave paintings, used very few colours, as they were often made from what was available locally. The colours were often mined from ‘ochre pits’, being used for both painting and ceremonies. The ochre was even traded between clans and at one time could only be collected by specific men within the clan. Some of the ochre pits throughout Australia can be viewed today as tourist attractions. There were variation in the symbolic representation of some rock art and paintings, depending on the tribe or region of Australia that you belong to. Traditionally, most boomerangs used by aboriginal groups in Australia were ‘non-returning’. These weapons, sometimes called “throwsticks” or “kylies”, were used for hunting a variety of prey.

Earth Dying, Earth Reborn – Dreamtime Story from Karraur Tribe story teller: Once, the earth was completely dark and silent; nothing moved on its barren surface. Inside a deep cave below the Nullabor Plain slept a beautiful woman, the Sun. The Great Father Spirit gently woke her and told her to emerge from her cave and stir the universe into life. The Sun Mother opened her eyes and darkness disappeared as her rays spread over the land; she took a breath and the atmosphere changed; the air gently vibrated as a small breeze blew. The Sun Mother then went on a long journey; from north to south and from east to west she crossed the barren land. The earth held the seed potencies of all things, and wherever the Sun’s gentle rays touched the earth, there grasses, shrubs and trees grew until the land was covered in vegetation. In each of the deep caverns in the earth, the Sun found living creatures which, like herself, had been slumbering for untold ages. She stirred the insects into life in all their forms and told them to spread through the grasses and trees, then she woke the snakes, lizards, and other reptiles, and they slithered out of their deep hold. As the snakes moved through and along the earth they formed rivers, and they themselves became creators, like the Sun. Behind the snakes mighty rivers flowed, teeming with all kinds of fish and water life. Then she called for the animals, the marsupials, and the many other creatures to awake and make their homes on the earth. The Sun Mother then told all the creatures that the days would from time to time change from wet to dry and from cold to hot, and so she made the seasons. One day while all the animals, insects and other creatures were watching, the Sun travelled far in the sky to the west and, as the sky shone red, she sank from view and darkness spread across the land once more. The creatures were alarmed and huddled together in fear. Sometime later, the sky began to glow on the horizon to the east and the Sun rose smiling into the sky again. The Sun Mother thus provided a period of rest for all her creatures by making this journey each day.

Every single facet of Aboriginal life comes from the Dreamtime. Aboriginal land ownership is based on spiritual beliefs and ties formed in the Dreamtime. Totems represent the link between Aborigines and the ancestrial creative beings. Humans receive spiritual identification from these totems at birth or just before pregnancy in the form of a dream or a physical experience. Spiritual values, law and education is of extreme importance and still passed down from generation to generation, encoded within the Dreamtime stories. The Australian landscape stands as testimony to every Dreamtime saga. The land IS the Aborigine… every rock, every pool, every stone and every sandhill IS the Dreamtime. Without the land, there is no culture. Pan-Australian mythology Rainbow Serpent, the Australian Carpet Python, being one of the forms the ‘Rainbow Serpent’ character may take in ‘Rainbow Serpent’ myths where many Aboriginal groups widely distributed across the Australian continent all appeared to share variations of a single (common) myth telling of an unusually powerful, often creative, often dangerous snake or serpent of sometimes enormous size closely associated with the rainbows, rain, rivers, and deep waterholes. ‘Rainbow Serpent’ is a term created to describe what he identified to be a common, recurring myth. Working in the field in various places on the Australian continent, he noted the key character of this myth (the ‘Rainbow Serpent’) is variously named:

Kanmare (Boulia, Queensland); Tulloun: (Mount Isa, Queensland); Andrenjinyi (Pennefather River, Queensland), Takkan (Maryborough, Queensland); Targan (Brisbane, Queensland); Kurreah (Broken Hill, New South Wales);Wawi (Riverina, New South Wales), Neitee & Yeutta (Wilcannia, New South Wales), Myndie (Melbourne, Victoria); Bunyip (Western Victoria); Arkaroo (Flinders Ranges, South Australia); Wogal (Perth, Western Australia); Wanamangura (Laverton, Western Australia); Kajura (Carnarvon, Western Australia); Numereji (Kakadu, Northern Territory).

This ‘Rainbow Serpent’ is generally and variously identified by those who tell ‘Rainbow Serpent’ myths, as a snake of some enormous size often living within the deepest waterholes of many of Australia’s waterways; descended from that larger being visible as a dark streak in the Milky Way, it reveals itself to people in this world as a rainbow as it moves through water and rain, shaping landscapes, naming and singing of places, swallowing and sometimes drowning people; strengthening the knowledgeable with rainmaking and healing powers; blighting others with sores, weakness, illness, and death. The term ‘Rainbow Serpent’ is now commonly used and familiar to broader Australian and international audiences, as it is increasingly used by government agencies, museums, art galleries, Aboriginal organisations and the media to refer to the pan-Australian Aboriginal myth specifically, and as a shorthand allusion to Australian Aboriginal mythology generally.

Australian Aboriginal culture includes a number of practices and ceremonies centered on a belief in the Dreamtime. Reverence for the land and oral traditions are emphasized. Language groupings and tribal divisions exhibit a range of individual cultures. Australian Aboriginal art has existed for thousands of years and ranges from ancient rock art to modern watercolor landscapes. Aboriginal music has developed a number of unique instruments. Contemporary Australian aboriginal music is predominantly of the country music genres. Indigenous Australians did not develop a system of writing.

Aboriginal body painting or art and personal ornamentation is an ancient tradition which carries deep spiritual significance for the Australian Indigenous People. Body painting ranges from simply smearing clay or natural ochres from the earth onto the skin to detailed geometric paintings on the torso, face and limbs. Their cultural rituals including body painting differ between Aboriginal Tribes and topographic location. It is related to spiritual matters and is very creative in character. The specific designs and motifs used by the Aboriginals reveal their relationships to their family group, social position, tribe, precise ancestors, totemic fauna and tracts of land. In Arnhem Land the people decorate the bodies of young boys for initiation ceremonies. They are painted in tribe/clan totems to the upper body and thighs. In Eastern Arnhem Land (Yolngu) the men are painted according to their Moiety (Clan/blood line) either Dhuwa or Yirritia. Moiety names are commonly used as convenient labels of address or as a means of social identification. Generational moieties are commonly found in the desert regions of Australia and are important in the organisation of ritual life. Moiety affiliation can have implications for the organisation and performance of ritual, for example in determining camping and seating arrangements. Moieties are often named and are often associated with special emblems or totems – for example Kilpara (Eaglehawk) and Makwara (Crow). A person usually marries someone of the opposite moiety and is forbidden to marry into his or her own moiety. For instance, in north east Arnhem Land, Yolngu clans are divided into moieties called Yirritja and Dhuwa, each of which owns distinct lands and descends from different Creation Ancestors. If a man is Dhuwa, then his wife is Yirritja, and vice versa. Women of the desert painted their upper chest, shoulders and breasts for communal women’s ceremonies. In art, moiety can play an important role in determining the subjects (Dreamings) which an artist may paint. Colour varies between different regions of Australia and tribes. Clay is often used as a colour source, as is as ochre, when at hand. Many tribes use precise colour pairing such as pink and red or yellow and white. Feathers, leaves and plant materials are also used to add colour to arm and leg ornaments. Animal fat is often mixed with paint so that they stay longer on the body because most ceremonies last for days. Such ceremonies involve storytelling, singing and dancing. Aboriginals use different items and ways to decorate the body include scars, feathers, shells, teeth, ornaments, face paint, and body paint. Symbols are greatly used and can represent many things about the person who uses it. It is often used to tell a spiritual story. Only specific relatives are given the right to paint another woman’s body. It is not appropriate for women to paint themselves for ceremony. The long communal painting and decorating process is part of the entire ritual right through to the dance and main singing. At the end of each performance the body painting is smeared and disguised or obliterated, just as the stamping feet of performers ultimately destroys the design on the ground. Every type of painting and decoration corresponds to Aboriginal laws, regulations or convention, as well as religious functions. They also represent a particular region or tribe. Symbols are used to communicate the social status of a person, his or her age, totemic duties, and the role he or she plays within the family group. Hunting ceremonies, circumcision ceremonies for boys from Arnhem Land display specific painting on their chests and the men who perform their rite-of-passage ceremony are also painted.

Aboriginal Ceremonies, such as corroboree which is a ceremonial meeting for Australian Aboriginal people. A senior artist and elder once stated ‘song was the first idea, the principle of sharing which underlies our system’. Each song, like each design or painting is part of a moment in a larger story. Songs make up a song series or a ‘songline’ which is a map of the country based on the travels of the Dreaming ancestors. To knowledgeable Aboriginal people, seeing a painting or a design will call to mind a song. Many senior painters sing as they paint the story of the song. Ceremonies play an important role in Tiwi culture. Traditionally each ceremony had its own form, which could vary depending upon the circumstances, and these were transmitted orally. There are two main ceremonial events performed involve the Kulama (yam) ceremony, and the mortuary or Pukumani ceremony (sometimes spelt Pukamani). The Kulama ceremony occurs towards the end of the wet season celebrating life and involves three days and nights of ritual body paintings, singing and dancing complete with the eating of yams according to a ritual custom. Concentric circles often appear as the main element of contemporary Tiwi patterns, representing the Kulama circle or ceremonial dancing ground. The Pukumani ceremony is the Tiwi people’s burial ceremony and includes singing, dancing and the making of special carved poles called tutini as well as tungas and arm bands. These large poles are made from the trunk of the ironwood tree and are carved and decorated to celebrate the dead person’s life and spiritual journey. Performance of this ceremony ensures that the spirit of the dead person goes from the living world into the spirit world. The Pukumani is a public ceremony and provides a forum for artistic expression through song, dance, sculpture and body painting. The ceremony occurs approximately six months after the deceased has been buried. The Tiwi believe that the dead person’s existence in the living world is not finished until the completion of the ceremony. The final Pukumani is the climax of a series of ceremonies that traditionally continued for many months after the burial of the dead. There is usually one iliana (minor ceremony) at the time of death and then many months later the final Pukumani. The ceremony culminates in the erection of monumental carved and decorated Pukumani poles which take many months to prepare and are impressive gifts to placate the spirit of the dead. Pukumani poles are placed around the burial site during the ceremony. They symbolise the status and prestige of the deceased. Participants in the ceremony are painted with natural ochres in many different designs, transforming the dancers and providing protection against recognition by the spirit of the deceased. Those participants closely related to the deceased wear decorated armbands (pamajini) during the performance. Pamajini are woven from the leaves of the pandanus or screw palm and are decorated with natural ochres and the feathers of the white cockatoo. The white cockatoo’s association with the Pukumani ceremony extends beyond the use of its feathers for headbands and armbands. It is believed to keep a sentinel eye on wayward spirits lost on route to the island of the dead. During all ceremonies a series of dances (yoi) are performed; some are totemic and some serve to act out the narrative of newly composed songs. Aside from these creative and illustrative performances there are those that certain kin – such as the mother, father, sibling and widow – must dance. When all is concluded and the last wailing notes of the amburu (death song) have died away, the grave is deserted and the burial poles allowed to decay. Not long before the death of Purrukapali, when all animals and birds were still men and women, Purutjikini, a boobook owl man and his wife Pintoma, a barn owl woman decided to perform the first Kulama ceremony. The white-headed sea eagle Jirakati was the first initiate and still wears the ceremonial paint. At the close of the creation period, the spirit performed a second and complete Kulama ceremony. This included the preparation of the poisonous Kulama yam when not properly prepared for food and the performance of all stages of initiation. The Kulama yam is a round root vegetable found in the surrounding monsoon forest. Large round concentric circles often appear as the main element of contemporary Tiwi paintings, representing the Kulama circle or ceremonial dancing ground. They are icons of Tiwi spiritual belief.

Fire Scalarization (act or process of scalarizing fire and smoke) a smoking ceremony is a cleansing ritual performed on special occasions, is an ancient custom among Indigenous Australians that involves burning various native plants to produce smoke, which is believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits. Fire, smoke and fumes from burning special plants are used as medicine and for ceremonies and rituals. A special fire pit is dug and branches paced on top of the coals. The sick person lies down on the branches and breathes in the smoke. Children are held over the fumes for a few minutes. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders these ceremonies bring together all aspects of their culture – song, dance, body decoration, sculpture and painting. Fire has been an essential survival tool for humans to live in the desert for tens of thousands of years. It has played, and continues to play a role in many aspects of life: warmth, hunting, cooking, tool making, communication, land management & medicine. It is the man’s job to start the fire & the woman’s job to keep it burning. Traditionally desert Aboriginal men would use a sawing motion to make fire. The base was made by cutting a wedge shape out of a soft wooden shield, tinder was then placed in the wedge (soft grass or kangaroo droppings). The edge of an amirre (spear thrower) or alye (boomerang) were then passed in a sawing motion across the cavity until the tinder was smoldering. Once the kangaroo dung was smoldering it was dropped into hand full of dry grass and lightly blown to ignite the flame.  Fire was a form of communication, as in when water supplies were running low one of the men would travel to where they knew the next reliable source of water would be. On his way he would take a firestick and burn small patches of grass as he went. If the waterhole had sufficient water, he would build up a stockpile grass, wood, a few green leaves and branches. When he lit it the thick smoke would signal the family that it was time to shift camp to this new location. They could easily follow the freshly burnt out pathway to the waterhole.

Fire-stick farming, “Burning off”, as it is often called, to facilitate hunting and to change the composition of plant species, adding additional food for kangaroos by fertilizing the ground and increasing the number of young plants, practice regularly and systematically burning patches of vegetation used in Central to Northern Australia where Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory regard “Fire-stick Farming” as “looking after the land” at least held animist notions connected to fire must be assumed (animist notions perceives all things—animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and perhaps even words—as animate and alive) and such sacred land stewardship was good resources husbandry. Animism encompasses the beliefs that all material phenomena have agency, that there exists no hard and fast distinction between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that soul or spirit or sentience exists not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows. Fire-stick farming, was also practiced by Indigenous Australians who regularly used fire to burn vegetation had the long-term effect of turning dry forest into savanna, increasing the population of nonspecific grass-eating species like the kangaroobut also may have contributed to the extinction of a number of large animal species in Australia with body mass greater than 100 lb (monotremes, marsupials, birds and reptiles) implicates the ecological disturbance caused by fire-stick farming. “Imperceptive overkill”, where anthropogenic pressures take place gradually and slowly wipe out megafauna, has been suggested. Chemical analysis of fragments of eggshells of Genyornis newtoni, a flightless bird that became extinct in Australia, from over 200 sites, revealed scorch marks consistent with cooking in human-made fires, presumably the first direct evidence of human contribution to the extinction of a species of the Australian of large animals body mass greater than 100 lb. Evidence based on accurate optically stimulated luminescence and uranium-thorium dating of megafaunal remains suggests that humans were the ultimate cause of the extinction of megafauna in Australia. The dates derived show that all forms of megafauna on the Australian mainland became extinct in the same rapid timeframe, approximately 46,000 years ago around the period when the earliest humans first arrived in Australia. Furthermore, early Australian Aborigines appear to have rapidly eliminated the megafauna of Tasmania about 41,000 years ago (following formation of a land bridge to Australia about 43,000 years ago as ice age sea levels declined) without using fire to modify the environment there. Therefore, he vegetation in Australia was actually an Aboriginal ritual artefact. Ceremony often srounds food resources both lack of them and with their substantial acquisition. Songs and dances were exchanged often at large ceremonial gatherings when many people gathered together and when trade goods were also exchanged. These gatherings often occurred at a time and place when there was plenty of food. Fire had a number of functions in Aboriginal culture. One use was for signaling, the once well-known smoke signals in movies. Another was for clearing tracks through the bush and keeping poisonous snakes away from them, making it easier to move through the bush. This function of fire was used regularly to keep tracks clear in thick bush in the Blue Mountains and the dense tea-tree scrub in western Tasmania. It was also used to keep tracks clear though the tall tropical grasslands of Arnhem Land. All across the continent fire was used to flush animals from grass to make them easier to hunt. Unlike the fire regime in Tasmania, where the rainforest was cleared by fire to allow food plants to grow, the Anbara from Arnhem Land use a variety of the burning regime that avoided the rainforest patches because they provided many food plants that were susceptible to fire, not regenerating after burning. Among the Anbara there are strong ritual prohibitions against burning: jungles that are the home of spirits that would blow smoke into the eyes of the fire lighters and blind them. The Anbara say that fire is necessary to clean up the country, they regarded unburnt grassland as neglected. Aboriginal People never put out their fires, camp fires were left burning, as were signal fires, those lit in sequence to indicate the direction travelled by humans or kangaroos, or hunting fires. They lit fires so apparently casually that they have been called ‘peripatetic pyromaniacs’. There are similarities between prehistoric Australian megafauna and some mythical creatures from the Aboriginal dreamtime. The evidence suggests that the stone technology which Aboriginal people had been using with little modification for over 40,000 years diversified and specialized in the last 5,000 years. Aboriginal burning may well have affected Australian vegetation, but that by far the greatest effect has occurred over the last 5,000 years. NUMBUK YABBUN Aboriginal culture burns the leaves of BOREEN, specifically the acacia, they perform a cleansing ceremony, when entering or leaving country they hold a NUMBUK YABUN “Smoking ceremony such as burns the leaves.” This burning also pays respect to country, the old people and the BURRINILIING (bare kneeling to ancestors).  NUMBUK is also part of general ceremonial purposes, both for NAIN (men) and NGOWAL (women). The sloping ground around it makes a natural bowl or amphitheatre with shelter from the wind. Here, clan groups would rest after their journey to the NADYUNG “healing waters.”

Tjurunga or churinga are objects of religious significance by Central Australian Aboriginal Arrernte (Aranda, Arundta) groups.

Walkabout refers to a commonly held belief that Australian Aborigines would undergo a rite of passage journey during adolescence by living away from their family group area.


Insoll, T. (2012). The Oxford handbook of the archaeology of ritual and religion. Oxford, United Kingdom. Oxford University Press.