‘When were the Kariong engravings produced?’ has been the focus of nearly all the discussion about this site. Another question that asks something slightly different is ‘When were the glyphs found?’. Although it is most important to determine their actual date, we also need to know the date at which the glyphs were first brought to public attention. In 1983-4 a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger apprehended a man at the site with a chisel, and freshly carved engravings was observed by a rock art conservation specialist. If we take that as the date of confirmed public discovery, when everyone in the pro- and con- camps agrees that they existed, how much further back can we push knowledge of them? This can lead to a better appreciation of when they were made and the way that dating evidence can be interpreted.
The video clips showing Kariong just keep coming. The first part of the this post gave 14 clips that collectively ran for more than an hour and a half. In the year or so since then another bunch of clips have emerged. Some of these follow the same format of shaky close-ups on the glyphs, which don’t really add much to what you have seen before, and can make you seasick after a while. But there’s a lot more too!. We get the site’s all too brief stardom when it featured in the Tony Robinson’s Australia series. Among other highlights are footage of Val Barrow channelling her spirit guide Alcheringa on the site, and Paul White, who wrote the first articles about the site, presenting part of his dcumentary series from 1993. All together its an interesting mix of scepticism through to wholehearted acceptance as genuine, and its even longer – totalling just under two hours.
As before I present these for your information and enjoyment. If you come across any others, please drop me a line. Until then, take the phone off the hook, uncork that shiraz and enjoy!
This post has been deleted.
In a 1967 article on the Egyptian presence in Australia Michael Terry wrote
[i]n February 1964 the tomb of a woman, probably dating back to 1,000 B.C., was found on the site of an ancient city in the Jordan Valley. Examination of the body suggested that eucalyptus oil had been used to embalm it. The only sources then of such oil were the gum-trees of Australia and New Guinea. Now, of course, they are relatively common overseas but only since Baron von Mueller instituted a seed exchange between Australia and other parts of the world … [Terry 1967: p. 21].
As with many of the elusive snippets of information Terry used, no source was provided for this find. The aim of this blog is to track down the source of Australian secret visitor claims such as this, and to work out what the actual evidence is, rather than the snippets that are sometimes misinterpreted and misapplied.
For example, in an earlier post I tried to track down claims that kangaroos had been found in Egypt. As it turned out there had been a misreading of a well-publicised palaeontological finding. Fossils of ancient marsupials, millions of years old, had been found in Egypt but journalists had misunderstood the meaning of this and had focussed entirely upon the marsupial aspect, assuming it inevitably meant kangaroos. In fact, these were the ancestors of the South American opossums, and were only very distantly related to Australasian marsupials. The mistake was readily understandable once I was able to get back to the original source and to do that I had to narrow down the time range by looking at the earliest mention of the mistaken reading, and working backwards from there.
Terry’s gave no source for the information. Having only occurred three years before it was written I had hoped that it would have been based on a news item and readily findable. Could I find it? Would the eucalyptus resin be a mistake, a journalistic flourish, a reliable result?
The 77th annual Society for American Archaeology Conference for 2012 has just been held in Memphis. This is one of the largest annual archaeology conferences in the world. The SAA’s membership is more than 7000 professional archaeologists working throughout North and South America, as well as many Americans with research interests elsewhere. What made it noteworthy here was that it included a session on pseudoarchaeology, organised by David S. Anderson of Tulane University and Jeb Card of Miami University.
Even more notewworthy is that I presented a paper. Well, I put in a paper and David Anderson did the always thankless job of having to read it out. I would have loved to attend but as Sydney University is currently laying waste to its academic teaching staff in the Arts Faculty it would seem gratuitous to have sought travel money [and also here, here and here].
Although it is not an Australian example, many Australian secret visitor sites repeat a short item about the island of New Hanover, one of the New Britain chain off the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea. It quotes a medical officer who was stationed on the island. The most common version reads
On New Hanover Island, off the tip of New Ireland in 1964, an administration medical officer, Mr. Ray Sheridan discovered what appears to be the remains of an ancient sun-worshippers temple of Egyptian style. Among the monolithic stone blocks there was an idol, facing the rising sun with features half human, half bird it stood 6 feet tall and weighed four tons. Near there Ray Sheridan found the carving of a wheel complete with hub. The ruins reminded him of ancient Sun-worship temples he had seen in Egypt during WWII. [Crystalinks 2012]
The blog entry on the engraving site that Lawrence Hargrave called ‘The Spanish Proclamation’ at Meriverie, on the northern headland of Bondi, provides a detailed discussion about its authenticity and likely history of creation. Since it was posted in April 2011 I have come across some additional information about the engraving which adds more to what we can say about it.
Who told Hargrave about the engravings?
The earliest I had tied Hargrave back to the Meriverie engravings was his tracing of 12 March 1910, with a short note a month later jotting down his possibly first inspiration of the symbolic textual message it contained. However, some further work at the National Library at the end of last year adds more to this story.
Hargrave received a letter from [illegible] Kirk of ‘The Ravine’, Ormond Street, Bondi, who had read of Hargrave’s claims in the Sydney Morning Herald in late July-early August 1909. He or she wrote:
After having a look at the Woollahra Pt carvings as a result of your interesting description in the ‘Herald’, I walked across to Meriverie to refresh my memory in regard to the carvings there which I have not seen for some years & with which doubtless you are acquainted. I venture to remind you that they have all the characteristics of those at W. Pt and there can be no doubt were the work of the same people, if not of the same individuals. And if as you surmise they were the work of Spanish adventurers, then those I refer to prove that those gentry travelled at least as far afield as Meriverie & made some stay there. As at W. Pt there are outlines of men and fish, and a similar track of oval markings. Also there are the hulls of two ships but although of antique looking, high pooped built they are in better drawing and probably of later date. They were there however at least 30 years ago & were weatherworn then. I am inclined to think however that some of the glyptic vandals who in late years have been carving initials & dates over the drawings have been adding finishing touches to the ships, touches which I don’t remember as existing when I formerly saw them. [NLA MS 352 ? Kirk to LH 5.8.1909]
Clearly Kirk’s main reference was to the Aboriginal engravings, but their comments on possible additions to the ships is interesting. They push the date of the ships back to before c.1880, which does not challenge the claim made by Peck that they were done by two employees of the Dredge Department in c.1870 [Peck 1929]. Ot is possible that the unfamiliar touches left by the ‘glyptic vandals’ refers to the additional letters.
On this basis we can assume that Hargrave was made aware of the Meriverie site by the letter from Mr or Ms Kirk in August 1909. If he visited it soon afterwards Hargrave would have had some basis for accepting the idea that there was a common hand at work – the Aboriginal engravings are much more abundant than those at Woollahra Point but essentially in the same Sydney engraving style. It was probably before Hargrave obtained a copy of Campbell’s monograph and therefore likely that he formulated the idea of all of the engravings representing the work of Lope de Vega’s men. As with other theories, once he came up with something and fleshed it out to his own satisfaction he was incredibly reluctant to change his mind, regardless of the contrary evidence.
The arrival of secret visitors is often the first and only explanation invoked to explain the discovery of exotic artefacts. Very often other, simpler, explanations are overlooked or ignored entirely. In scientific and other logical reasoning the simplest explanation – the one that introduces the fewest unproven leaps of faith, or is based on processes and events that are known to happen elsewhere – is preferred. This idea is often termed Occam’s Razor or the principle of parsimony. As well as referring to explanatory mechanisms, Occam’s Razor also favours the fewest revisions to what is already known. It can be worth thinking about those circumstances which could result in the appearance of out of place artefacts in a way that fits Occam’s Razor. Using known facts is it possible to expect that we could, one day, find exotic artefacts in Australia? If we found a mobile phone in a Pleistocene rockshelter deposit in central Australia it would be foolish to invoke time-travel, extra-terrestrial intervention or long-forgotten Aboriginal telephony as the best explanation. Well before we call on unproven and unsupported ideas, we would need to look at the question of prior disturbance of the deposit by animals and humans, whether people still camped there, deliberate fraud or hoaxing, errors by the archaeologists and so on, all of which are known to have happened in the past. Each of these explanations is testable, and each could explain the mobile phone’s presence without having to alter what we already know about Australian Pleistocene archaeology.
Similarly, knowing that Macassan fishermen harvested trepang in Australian waters, it is reasonable to ask whether the well-established maritime trade networks that connected China and India via the Malay archipelago may also have extended as far as Australia or, if not, at least have provided a conduit for some clearly exotic material to end up in pre-1606 Australian contexts. This post takes a look at what we know of this trade. The Macassan presence in northern Australia deserves a few posts on its own.
- – - – - – - – - – - – -
And yet amongst all of this there were little gems of insight that shone with great intensity. Reading his field notes, you soon realise that where he really wanted to be was among his beloved Pacific islands, rather than in the succession of bedsits and lodging houses on Sydney’s north shore, shouting at the other loud and uncooperative houseguests. Even at the age of 75 when he was carrying plaster across the rickety scaffold at Yasawa he had a discernable vibrancy, of wanting to explore, discover and explain, which I think any archaeologist would respond to when they read it. Amid the reams of newspaper copy and aborted scholarly writing the best, most empathic prose was a short piece he wrote on the fringe dwellers living in bush camps on Sydney’s outskirts. In it he conveyed something of his own lack of fit – these hermits were driven there ‘not by hardship or poverty, that destroys the mind, but incompatibility’ [Vogan Papers: Box 18, 'The Muddlers' manuscript].
Another factor that softened my view of him was that Vogan was also an early advocate for the conservation of rock art. He became a gadfly to Woy Woy Shire Council in particular, constantly lobbying them to preserve the rock engravings in their area, particularly the ‘rabbits’. Although this never eventuated, some protection was ultimately given to the more accessible Bulgandry site nearby.
Go back to Part 1 of Arthur J. Vogan’s story.
- – - – - – - – - – - – -
The Yasawa inscriptions fulfilled two critical needs for Vogan. Firstly they were the field credential he had always craved, that could legitimise him as an archaeologist. Almost everything he had written about until then had been someone else’s discovery. Here now was a real archaeological site, in an exotic location that he had found [although see Footnote 5] and adventurously overcame difficulties to record the evidence. Secondly, the Yasawa inscriptions provided a link he could argue existed between the literate civilisations of Asia, specifically the Shang, and the Pacific. While the resemblance between the angular Yasawa motifs and Chinese pictograms is coincidental at best, it looks superficially plausible. The relative dating of this push by Asian peoples into the Pacific at around 1500 B.C. gave Vogan a chronological anchor point to develop further his theoretical connections with early civilisations. Another factor that appealed to Vogan about the inscriptions was their abstraction. Since the 1910s some of his writings had explored various then fashionable by-ways of psychology, symbolism and gnosticism. While he rejected all isms, and was happy to declare himself all but atheistic, he nonetheless maintained an attraction to the essential idea that human psyche could be understood by exploring the earliest languages, religions, writings and other archaeological evidence as symbols reflecting underlying human constants. His writings, particularly the endless newspaper columns often reverted to talking about the links between early religious symbols around the globe. Vogan’s theories were certainly not the only outlandish ones doing the rounds at the same time. If anything they were more reflective of the late 19th century than the between-wars period, but this was no great progress. His belief in symbolism was of it as a fundamental early human psychological trait, rather than an adopted cultural element. In this and other matters he largely disagreed with the claims of the diffusionists such as Perry and Elliott Smith.
The inscriptions were Vogan’s final achievement and the subject of his ‘scholarly’ papers, one in the French language Le Courrier Australien  and the other in the Journal of the Polynesian Society , although some more popular columns in the Fiji Times and Pacific Islands Monthly also set out his findings. Neither is particularly academic, being essentially narrative and rambling at that. His correspondence shows Vogan was wracked with anxiety when writing them and waiting for their publication. In contrast he continued to produce voluminous newspaper copy with relative ease. Vogan used journalism skilfully as a tool of self-promotion. He was often referred to in newspaper copy, which he certainly would have written beforehand, as ‘the well-known archaeologist’, ‘the pioneer Pacific explorer’ and so on. Most of his newspaper articles on a broad range of subjects appeared in fairly obscure publications. While they ostensibly dealt with archaeology or history in their titles they very soon drifted into the spiritual and esoteric. He claimed to anyone that would listen that the Jewish conspiracy had black-balled him from all the major newspapers but what he wrote was dense, wordy, meandering rubbish most of the time. His letters to the editor, however, were usually pretty snappy, if somewhat snippish in tone, while his personal correspondence tended to continually restate a few things that he saw as establishing his status and credibility, such as knowing Sir John Lubbock, later Lord Avebury [1870s as a teenager], working for the Illustrated London News [1880s-90s], being the writer of the only Australian-published book that had ever gone into a third edition [as the Black Police did at the beginning of the century], being in the first ever St Johns Ambulance class [as a youth in London] and so on.
Working through a lifetime’s paper, with the carbons of countless letters, dozens of small notebooks filled with copytext notes on Sumerian- Indian-Chinese-Aztec mythology, boxes of clipped or torn newspaper items, the repetitions quickly became apparent and very hard to face. By the end of the third day I was fantasising what I would say to AJV if I saw him at the Library cafe. I knew his secrets – the girlfriend who said no to marriage and made him seek out the New Guinea expedition so he could die heroically, upsetting Margaret Collingridge’s family with so much anti-Catholic hatred that her mother called in the lawyers, refusing to discount his belief in the truth of the Protocols of the Elders Of Zioneven when trusted friends told him it was a forgery, approving of Hitler well into the war. All these were bullets I could use on this tedious man, who moaned that it was everyone else’s fault except his own that he got nothing done on his research. Vogan’s anti-Semitic racism runs throughout his correspondence from about 1914 onwards, but reached a peak in the mid-1930s, when he ceases to identify Jews as the cause of his, and the wider world’s, pains, and begins to use it as an epithet for anyone he does not like. Those who wrote to him because they thought he was an expert in Pacific history sometimes received letters back that had a paragraph about the topic and then an extended rant about why he was in no position to help them because a conspiracy of the Jewish controlled press had barred him from journalistic work in Australia or because he withstood the wholesale Americanisation of Australian-British culture. Vogan thought Australians wilfully ignorant and often repeated the story that an editor had spiked one of his discovery stories because ‘Australians only want to read about things they can put a bet on’. While some objected to his racist assertions, there were many who clearly thought on the same lines. Along with racism as an easy crutch for his failings with his theory, the lack of academic recognition for his theory led Vogan to see professional archaeology in universities and museums as inherently opposed to ideas that challenged the status quo. To gain their support you needed to belong to the right club, or follow the party line. Seeking to engage and receive support from the recognised experts he quickly became intemperate, accusing them of various ethical shortcomings and severing contact. As a result the few people with whom he remained civil were promoted as the most enlightened scholars imaginable, such as ‘probably the best authority in Australasia, Dr C.A. Monticone, the New South Wales Government hermeneutics expert’ [Vogan 1937: p. 101] who was in reality the head of the NSW Court translation service. Many other examples of both condemnation and praise can be found in his papers.