ABORIGINAL PRE-HISTORY ON THE LOWER MURRAY "SANDS OF TIME" extracts from articles by Barry HAILSTONE; The Advertiser; Adelaide....1989: "River Murray burial site" a vital piece in the archaeological jigsaw
Below North-West Bend (at Morgan), the Murray flows between high limestone cliffs where elbow-shaped bends in the river once enclosed wide flats festooned with huge red gums, and sweeping beds of rushes.
Sadly gaunt leafless monstrosities, so evident near the bridge at Blanchetown, are the only hints as to the former magnificence of the river-flat vegetation. - The coming of Europeans, sheep, rabbits, woodcutters and the building of locks. So altered the vegetation and river levels, that the fertile flats were soon denuded. - Scoured and eroded, the large dunes in the vicinity of Blanchtown eventually exposed the skeletons of Aborigines, which had lain for thousands of years in the high sand dune beside the river. - Now, no more than a low mound of wind-blown sand, the area has been decreed one of the World's most important archaeological sites.
On a distant day, 4,000 years before the birth of
Christ, the body of a young man was laid to rest in a vertical grave on this
river bank with ornaments of oyster shell and bone. - It was almost 1,000
years before the Egyptians began building the Great Pyramids. - About 2,000
years before Stonehenge was built, and nearly 4,000 years before Julius
Caesar strode ashore on a British beach. - Claims, supported by radio-carbon
dating at many of the world's leading laboratories, yield a record of the
richest and most comprehensive human history of any single site in Australia,
if not the world. To say that the site is significant - is an understatement.
- The site is one of only a few places on Earth, where you can stand on
ground hallowed by the recurrent tenure of Man, for such a time-span,
arguably 35,000 years.
The most significant discoveries were made in the area called Roonka - an Aboriginal word, which relates to the grubs of moths that abounded in the root systems of trees, and which were relished by the Aborigine hunter gatherers of the region. - International archaeologists agree, that at Roonka, a unique archaeological cemetery has been found which contains a substantial number of skeletons, apparently buried over a very long time stretching back to 17,000 BC, perhaps further. - Archaeologists know of no other site like it. It is much richer than any other known site around the world. - Burial practices provide a rare insight into the ideologies of bygone societies. Clues about Aboriginal mortality have emerged that have changed the perceptions about Aboriginal prehistory.
People first camped there about 18,000 years ago, but did not use the area as a burial ground until later. - The earliest burials are in a distinctive series of 12 graves, dated to a period between 4,000 and 7,000 years ago. Bodies were placed vertically in a shaft hole accompanied by pendant ornaments. - One was found with a bone dagger 29cm long, apparently used to pry open the rib cage. - There is evidence that some of the bones of the buried skeletons have been rearranged, suggesting that the graves were reopened or revisited at a later date, possibly as part of the burial ritual.
From a later period - since 4,000 years ago - there are 70 graves which show a change in burial practices. - The bodies of mature adults were either fully extended or contracted, and graves contained food offerings, bone awls, bodkins and stone artefacts. - Some individuals were elaborately clad in ornaments, jewellery and animal skins secured with bone pins or bodkins, and some were accompanied by an infant. - Suggesting a differentiation in social status.
It's this emergence of social status that makes the Roonka site so unique in the annals of archaeology study. - If the human species first developed in Africa, as seems to be the case. Then when did people first move from Africa to Asia, or to Europe? - When did the ancestors of aborigines first arrive in Australia? - These are questions which archaeologists seek to answer. Roonka is seen as an important part in this jigsaw, because it may be the only place in the world which records a chronologically sequential history of man's cultural practices spanning 18,000 years, and possibly 35,000 years.
***** See how the Australian land-mass has changed over the last 100,000 years *****
Its significance has been recognised by The Times atlas of archaeology, the most prestigious publication of its kind, where Roonka is recorded among the archaeological treasures of the world.
At Roonka, circumstantial evidence in different graves, hints at death by childbirth, death by genetic abnormality, judicial executions and death through disease and spearing. - The skeleton of one young woman reveals that she was unable to give birth to her child - the child's skull was partly emergent at a narrow pelvic opening. The torture of her predicament may have ended with a mercy blow to the head - her skull was fractured.
One grave held the body of a child resting on the left arm of the skeleton of a strong man and, according to the experts, it is the most striking and elaborate tomb unearthed in Australia. It records the first instance of Aboriginal crowning of the dead. - Examples of crowns, on warriors or chieftains, show how attitudes towards death evolved. It indicates there was social divisions within prehistoric societies, with some people having the status of a special burial conferred upon them.
Until Roonka, science tended to measure the progress of early Australian man's development, in terms of stone implements, stone spear tips and artefacts. But Roonka has yielded a different legacy. - In common with nomadic people in other parts of the world. Roonka's gift to the present may be the remnants of an intellectual culture. - It's an archaeological site which compels us to change our views on Australian prehistory.
The Roonka excavations have also shown us that the Murray people were tall and robust. - There is evidence that they were successful in organising a society, to a higher level of achievement than we have erstwhile given them credit for. - That such a social order should have evolved, adapted and persisted, for such a period of time, in the history of Man, is in itself a magnificent achievement.
Examples below of some typical aboriginal 'Canoe Trees' from various locations within the Murray \ Darling Basin. -The scar, which is the result of the removal of a large slab of bark that was then shaped into a crude canoe, can be clearly seen. - Such trees are quite common along the Murray, as well as other Australian rivers. However, the scar, oftentimes, faces away from the river making them difficult to detect. - Alas! time is their enemy, their numbers are declining as the years go by. - In the Aboriginal Artefacts Department of all major Australian museums, however, there are many preserved examples of intact aboriginal 'bark canoes' on display.
|Photos of some 'canoe trees' from different locations. The black/white photo, far left, is of a very old tree with an especially large scar. Few such trees are still standing today. To the right, photos of a 'canoe tree' opposite the 'Woolpudna' pump, the wider shot shows a 'canoe tree' slightly right of centre. Both right-hand photos are of the same tree, taken from different angles. - Other types of riverbank scenery are featured in the photograph page of this website:|
OTHER SITES DEALING WITH AUSTRALIAN PRE-HISTORY DATA.
|Dreaming of the Dreamtime.||The Sands of Dreamtim|
|Aboriginal Culture.||Indigenous Australian Occupation.|
|Mungo Mania.||Mungo Man.|
|Roonka - Morphology Data.||Kow Swamp - is it Homo Erectus?|
|Aboriginal Occupation; Wentworth Shire.||Australian & Asian Palaeoanthropology.|
Peter J REILLY 1997 ... E-mail Inquiries
Return to Homepages