September 29, 2023

Race Against Time To Find Ancient Indigenous Carvings on Australian Boab Trees

Large boab tree with coiled snake carving, northern Tanami Desert. Credit: Darrell Lewis
For Indigenous Australians, carvings in boab trees are as substantial as rock art. Now, there is a race versus time to document the ancient art in the bark of boabs prior to the remarkable heritage trees pass away.
In a race against time, in some of the roughest surface in the world, researchers are working with a group of First Nations Australians to document ancient art in the bark of Australias boab trees.
Carvings in the boab trees tell the stories of the King Brown Snake (or Lingka) Dreaming in a remote location of the Tanami desert, a desert in northern Australia which straddles the border of Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

After more than 2 years of fieldwork, the research study team discovered 12 trees with carvings. Working together with 5 Traditional Owners, the scientists performing the research are from The Australian National University (ANU), The University of Western Australia and University of Canberra.
Much of the carved trees are currently several hundreds of years old and there is some seriousness to produce premium recordings prior to these amazing heritage trees die, according to Researcher Professor Sue OConnor, from the ANU School of Culture, History and Language.
” Unlike the majority of Australian trees, the inner wood of boabs is fibrous and soft and when the trees passes away, they just collapse,” Professor OConnor stated.
” Sadly, after lasting centuries if not millennia, this amazing art work, which is equally as considerable as the rock art Indigenous Australians are well-known for, is now in danger of being lost.
Conventional Owner Brenda Garstone said its important Indigenous knowledge and stories are not lost and continue to be shared for generations.
” We remain in a race versus time to document this important cultural heritage,” she said.
Professor OConnor stated Australian boabs have actually never been successfully dated.
” They are frequently stated to live for approximately 2,000 years however this is based upon the ages acquired from some of the huge baobab trees in South Africa which are a various species,” she stated. “We simply do not know how old the Australian boabs are.
” It is vital we get some direct ages for these exceptional Australian trees, which help inform the story of First Nations Australians and are the source of an abundant cultural heritage.
” There are hundreds more boabs noticeable on Google Earth, which we didnt handle to get to on this trip. They remain to be looked for carvings on our next Tanami experience.
” We hope that our research will bring the art in the bark of these remarkable trees to a lot more Australians so that they can be appreciated for generations to come.”
A term paper on their fieldwork and research study of Australian boab trees was published on October 11 in the journal Antiquity.
Referral: “Art in the bark: Indigenous sculpted boab trees (Adansonia gregorii) in north-west Australia” by Sue OConnor, Jane Balme, Ursula Frederick, Brenda Garstone, Rhys Bedford, Jodie Bedford, Anne Rivers, Angeline Bedford and Darrell Lewis, 11 October 2022, Antiquity.DOI: 10.15184/ aqy.2022.129.
Funding: Australian Research Council, Rock Art Australia, ARC Centre of Excellence for Australian Biodiversity and Heritage.