Complex Relations

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A new study is revealing unique details about the relationship between Australia’s Indigenous people and outsiders hundreds of years before the continent’s colonization, Live Science reported.

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered strange cave paintings made by Aboriginals in Arnhem Land in northern Australia. They depicted two large ships that were different from previous artwork seen elsewhere.

In the past, scholars have recorded rock art showing vessels from the Moluccas – also known as the Maluku Islands – an archipelago off the eastern coast of Indonesia. These depictions were evidence that the Moluccas and Aboriginals interacted with each other centuries ago.

But the new findings hint that this interaction might have not always been pleasant: The Arnhem Land paintings appear to be warships, which suggests that there might have been “physical violence” between Australia’s Indigenous and their visitors, according to co-author Daryl Wesley.

“They’re fighting craft, decorated with all these pennants and flags and other elements that really set them apart from your usual trading or fishing vessels,” he told ABC News Australia.

Wesley and his colleagues explained that there was an intricate detail in the paintings, which suggests that the artists had intimate knowledge of the vessel – either they sailed on it or observed it from close proximity.

The authors noted that the study underscores a more complex relationship between the two cultures, while cautioning that more research is needed.

Still, Wesley said the findings add further evidence that “Australia is not just some sort of land that’s on its own, in the middle of nowhere and is cut off for 65,000 years from everywhere else.”

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