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11 November 2016
Aboriginal astronomy provides clues to ancient life

An ancient Australian Aboriginal site in the Victorian bush could be the oldest astronomical observatory in the world. Scientists studying the Wurdi Youang stone arrangement say it could date back more than 11,000 years, and provide clues into the origins of agriculture. If the site is more than 7,000 years old, it will rewrite history and further disprove the notion that first Australians were uniformly nomadic hunter-gatherers.
     Scientists believe the arrangement of stones was able to map out the movements of the sun throughout the year.
     Doctor Duane Hamacher, a leader in the study of Indigenous astronomy, has been working with Aboriginal elders at the site to reconstruct their knowledge of the stars and planets, and says that early first Australians had complex knowledge systems. "They understand very well the motions of the sun, the moon, the planets and the stars throughout the year and over longer periods of time," he explains, adding, "White Australians don't generally recognise that the history of colonialism has erased that, so what we're doing is helping the communities piece that information back together by working with communities."
     Custodian Reg Abrahams says the region around the observatory seems to have once had semi-permanent villages with evidence of early fishing and farming practices; areas where eel traps would have been set up and even signs of "gilgies" - terraces used in farming.
     Abrahams says: "You see a lot of agricultural and aqua-cultural practices, so evidence of this agriculture may go back tens of thousands of years, pre-dating what anthropologists commonly think of as the dawn of agriculture which is about 11,000 years ago in Mesopotamia."
     Traditional owners such as Judy Dalton-Walsh say research into the site and Aboriginal astronomy means that the knowledge can continue to be passed on: "We learnt at school the European names for the stars and the Milky Way and it's also good to know that we traditionally had a name for them as well. Our gods were up there in the stars."

Edited from ABC (13 October 2016)

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