Rock Art in Australia Shows Boats From Indonesia

News June 2, 2023

(Flinders University)
Australia Awunbarna Rock Art
(Flinders University)

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA—According to a statement released by Flinders University, images of Moluccan vessels from Indonesia’s eastern islands have been identified in northern Australia’s Awunbarna region by Flinders University archaeologists Mick de Ruyter, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, and Daryl Wesley. The rock art depicts the distinctive shape of vessels built by Moluccans, including pennants and prow adornments resembling historical records of vessels from the islands of eastern Maluku Tenggara. Such vessels have been linked to trade, fishing, collection of resources, head-hunting, and slavery. De Ruyter said that that images provide evidence of encounters between island peoples of Southeast Asia and Aboriginal people of northern Australia, although it is unclear what exactly took place during these meetings. “Dutch traders established agreements with the elders in Maluku Tenggara for products like turtle shell and trepang [or sea cucumber] that may have been sourced during voyages to Australia,” van Duivenvoorde said. “Islanders in Maluku Tenggara also had a reputation as raiders and warriors, ranging across the eastern end of the archipelago.” The researchers will continue to look for other sources of evidence to develop a better understanding of these encounters. To read in-depth about Aboriginal rock art in northern Australia, go to "Letter from Australia: Where the World Was Born."

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