Oldest Living Culture: New Research Shows an Indigenous Ritual Passed Down for 500 Generations

The 11,000 year old ritual fire in Cloggs Cave, East Gippsland.

From The Conversation: We often hear that Aboriginal peoples have been in Australia for 65,000 years, “the oldest living cultures in the world”. But what does this mean, given all living peoples on Earth have an ancestry that goes back into the mists of time?

Our new discoveries, announced today in the scientific journal Nature Human Behaviour, shed new light on this question.

Under the guidance of GunaiKurnai Elders, archaeologists from the GunaiKurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation and Monash University excavated at Cloggs Cave near Buchan, in the foothills of the high country near the Snowy River in East Gippsland, Victoria.

What we found was extraordinary. Under the low, subdued light in the depth of the cave, buried under layers of ash and silt, two unusual fireplaces were revealed by the tip of the trowel. They each contained a single trimmed stick associated with a tiny patch of ash.

A sequence of 69 radiocarbon dates, including on wood filaments from the sticks, date one of the fireplaces to 11,000 years ago, and the deeper of the two to 12,000 years ago, at the very end of the last Ice Age.

Matching the observed physical characteristics of the fireplaces with GunaiKurnai ethnographic records from the 19th century shows this type of fireplace has been in continuous use for at least 12,000 years.

Enigmatic sticks smeared with fat

These were no ordinary fireplaces: the upper one was the size of the palm of a human hand.

Sticking out from the middle of it was a stick, one slightly burned end still stuck into the middle of the ashes of the fire. The fire had not burned for long, nor did it reach any significant heat. No food remains were associated with the fireplace.

Two small twigs that once grew from the stick had been trimmed off, so the stem was now straight and smooth.

We performed microscopic and biochemical analyses on the stick, showing it had come into contact with animal fat. Parts of the stick were covered with lipids – fatty acids that cannot dissolve in water and can therefore remain on objects for vast lengths of time.

The trimmings and layout of the stick, tiny size of the fire, absence of food remains, and presence of smeared fat on the stick suggest the fireplace was used for something other than cooking.

More here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.