Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ngaut Ngaut - A Lunar Calendar?

From Paul Curnow and Ray Norris (edited by Duane Hamacher)

On the banks of the Murray River, north of Adelaide, is a rock art site called "Ngaut Ngaut" that has astronomical connections.  However, those connections are shrouded in mystery.  The Traditional Owners know that some of the engravings represent the sun and moon, but the banning of their language and oral traditions by Christian missionaries over 100 years ago resulted in knowledge about this site being lost.

An Aboriginal guide named Cess explaining the fossils and rock art of Ngaut Ngaut
to the Supernova Group (from Adelaide Planetarium) in 2003.

Ngaut Ngaut is part of the Ngarrindjeri Nation, which encompasses the region stretching along the Coorong in South Australia to along the Murray River to Blanchetown further north.  The Traditional Custodians of Ngaut Ngaut are the Nganguraku (sometimes spelt Nganguruku), who form part of the Ngarrindjeri Nation.

Ngaut Ngaut was the site of Australia’s first archaeological excavation in 1927.  Dating evidence taken from the remains of ancient campfires suggests that humans have occupied this area as long ago as 27,000 years.  The site includes various engravings, or petroglyphs, of animals, people, deities, the sun and moon.  Close to the engravings are a series of dots and lines carved in the rock, which, according to the Traditional Owners, show the "cycles of the Moon". 

Engraving of the sun.  Image by Paul Curnow.
Lunar cycle tally marks at Ngaut Ngaut?  Image by Ray Norris.

This oral tradition has been passed through generations from father to son, but since initiation ceremonies were banned (along with the Nganguraku language) by Christian missionaries over a hundred years ago, only this fragment of knowledge survives, and it is not known exactly what the symbols mean.  Are they tally's of each full moon?  In parts of central New South Wales, Aboriginal men cut notches into sticks at each full moon so as to keep track of their age, so this idea is certainly plausible.  But what are the verticle lines above the dots?  What is the strange symbol in the middle?  Why are dots superimposed on the sun engraving?

The rich record engraved on the walls of Ngaut Ngaut has so far defied attempts at decoding it, but we are setting our sites on unlocking the astronomical secret, which will be the focus of future research.


Take a guided tour of Ngaut Ngaut here.

1 comment:

  1. very amazing, all those writing in the cave looks different.please visit my sitemoon calendar