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posted by hubie on Tuesday July 09, @04:03AM   Printer-friendly

Arthur T Knackerbracket has processed the following story:

Two slightly burnt, fat-covered sticks discovered inside an Australian cave are evidence of a healing ritual that was passed down unchanged by more than 500 generations of Indigenous people over the last 12,000 years, according to new research.

The wooden sticks, found poking out of tiny fireplaces, showed that the ritual documented in the 1880s had been shared via oral traditions since the end of the last ice age, a study in the journal Nature Human Behaviour said on Monday.

The discovery was made inside Cloggs Cave in the foothills of the Victorian Alps in Australia's southeast, in a region long inhabited by the Gunaikurnai people.

[...] Carefully digging through the soil, the team found a small stick poking out—then they found another one. Both well-preserved sticks were made from the wood of casuarina trees.

Each one was found in a separate fireplace around the size of the palm of a hand—far too small to have been used for heat or cooking meat.

The slightly charred ends of the sticks had been cut specially to stick into the fire, and both were coated in human or animal fat.

One stick was 11,000 years old and the other 12,000 years old, radiocarbon dating found.

"They've been waiting here all this time for us to learn from them," said Gunaikurnai elder Russell Mullett, a co-author of the study and head of GLaWAC.

Mullett spent years trying to find out what they could have been used for, before discovering the accounts of Alfred Howitt, a 19th-century Australian anthropologist who studied Aboriginal culture.

Some of Howitt's notes had never been published, and Mullett said he spent a long time convincing a local museum to share them.

In the notes, Howitt describes in the late 1880s the rituals of Gunaikurnai medicine men and women called "mulla-mullung".

One ritual involved tying something that belonged to a sick person to the end of a throwing stick smeared in human or kangaroo fat. The stick was thrust into the ground before a small fire was lit underneath.

"The mulla-mullung would then chant the name of the sick person, and once the stick fell, the charm was complete," a Monash University statement said.

The sticks used in the ritual were made of casuarina wood, Howitt noted.

Jean-Jacques Delannoy, a French geomorphologist and study co-author, told AFP that "there is no other known gesture whose symbolism has been preserved for such a long time".

"Australia kept the memory of its first peoples alive thanks to a powerful oral tradition that enabled it to be passed on," Delannoy said.

"However in our societies, memory has changed since we switched to the written word, and we have lost this sense."

More information: Bruno David et al, Archaeological evidence of an ethnographically documented Australian Aboriginal ritual dated to the last ice age, Nature Human Behaviour (2024). DOI: 10.1038/s41562-024-01912-w


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  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by PiMuNu on Tuesday July 09, @05:02AM (10 children)

    by PiMuNu (3823) on Tuesday July 09, @05:02AM (#1363521)

    > "However in our societies, memory has changed since we switched to the written word, and we have lost this sense."

    Ah, the wisdom of the noble savage, that we in the West have so carelessly cast away in our quest for worldly things such as healthcare, consistent food production, easy access to heating and other modern conveniences.

    (that was sarcasm)

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by driverless on Tuesday July 09, @05:14AM (9 children)

      by driverless (4770) on Tuesday July 09, @05:14AM (#1363522)

      Another way of looking at that was that in twelve thousand years the amount of progress made in any realm you care to name (housing, food, clothing, medicine, quality of life, ...) was essentially zero.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by Mykl on Tuesday July 09, @05:39AM (4 children)

        by Mykl (1112) on Tuesday July 09, @05:39AM (#1363523)

        Agree - I don't think it's a great flex to prove that you've been doing something the same way for 12,000 years, particularly when that thing is essentially a placebo medicine.

        It would be really impressive if oral tradition passed down memories of things that were different several thousand years ago.

        Having said that, there are some Aboriginal oral traditions that record significant events such as rising seas cutting Tasmania off from mainland Australia thousands of years ago (link is to The Conversation [theconversation.com], which is a 'progressive' source - independent verification may be needed).

        • (Score: 2) by kazzie on Tuesday July 09, @09:26AM

          by kazzie (5309) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday July 09, @09:26AM (#1363530)

          That link is an interesting read, though I didn't spot anything that prompted my misinformation spidey-senses. If anyone has a contrasting view or source, please do share.

        • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @09:31AM (2 children)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @09:31AM (#1363531)

          You know what you never hear about when they are talking about aborigines?
          The first ones arrived in Australia somewhere over 50,000 years ago. Then about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago there was a second wave from what is now Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. They wiped out the first ones. Almost complete replacement, with very little interbreeding.

          • (Score: 2) by corey on Tuesday July 09, @11:43PM (1 child)

            by corey (2202) on Tuesday July 09, @11:43PM (#1363598)

            I didn’t know that and I’m an Aussie, thanks. Got any references?

            • (Score: 4, Interesting) by namefags_are_jerks on Wednesday July 10, @01:48AM

              by namefags_are_jerks (17638) on Wednesday July 10, @01:48AM (#1363604)

              https://www.nature.com/articles/nature18299 [nature.com]

              No living Australian 'First Nations people' (when are the Inuit going to sue them for pinching that..) have DNA from before the ~30,000 human settlement. (While everyone's currently running around saying "50,000 years of continuous culture!"...)

              There's been 3 major human incursions into the mainland, coming from land-bridges with New Guinea -- ~50000, ~32000, and ~10000 years ago. The 50k guys all died out given the DNA evidence. The 32k guys make up the bulk of the Central-Western and Tasmanian populations. The 10ks basically overrun the east coast with their Polygamous Patriarchal and violent culture. (An interesting thing is the Tasmanian settlement was cut off by 10k years ago and would have been a good study on the 32k societies..)

      • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Tuesday July 09, @05:02PM (2 children)

        by pTamok (3042) on Tuesday July 09, @05:02PM (#1363563)

        12,000 years without ecosystem collapse is pretty good going. Humans are (usually) notoriously destructive.

        Living within our (the planet's) means is something that western 'civilization' hasn;t quite mastered yet. When I last looked, the USA was using resources per inhabitant at about 5 times the availability rate, which in turn is likely considerably higher than the sustainable rate.

        Scientific American (Sepetember 2012): Use It and Lose It: The Outsize Effect of U.S. Consumption on the Environment [scientificamerican.com]

        • (Score: 3, Informative) by Mykl on Tuesday July 09, @11:33PM

          by Mykl (1112) on Tuesday July 09, @11:33PM (#1363596)

          Human practices in Australia did cause an ecosystem collapse - it's just not discussed much.

          50,000 years ago much of Eastern Australia was covered in Temperate Rainforest - quite different to the drier climate that is dominated by Gum trees. What caused the change? Early humans living in Australia discovered that they could very effectively 'hunt' animals by setting fire to the forest around them and either capturing the animals that ran out or later picking up the ones that burned to death. Low effort, easy returns. It was so effective that they kept using it.

          Gum trees actually rely upon the fire cycle to germinate and spread, so this was great news for them. Over generations, the rainforests were gradually taken over by the gum trees (which benefited from fire hunting practices) and other plants that recover faster from fire, and Australia became a drier continent. The remaining humans then needed to adapt to the new environment that had been created.

        • (Score: 2) by driverless on Wednesday July 10, @03:45AM

          by driverless (4770) on Wednesday July 10, @03:45AM (#1363612)

          Primitive societies are just as good or even better at destroying the environment than technically advanced ones, there's just not enough people, and they don't have access to any kind of tools or mechanisation, for them to have much impact. For example the Australian aborigines managed to exterminate the Australian megafauna not long after they arrived despite only having about 0.01 person per square km to do it with. The Maori in NZ exterminated a bunch of species like the moa with similar restrictions, through a combination of wholesale killing and habitat destruction.

          And if you want to read about the horror that was warfare in primitive societies, read "War before Civilisation": mass murder, torture of captives, killing of children, not recognising surrender, all of this was par for the course. Standard expected casualty rates for inter-tribal skirmishes started at the same level as Gettysburg and the Somme and went up from there. Again, the only reason why it wasn't worse was because the numbers were so small, at one point the book mentions that to match the casualty rates from tribal conflict in PNG the US would have had to have killed the entire population of South Vietnam.

      • (Score: 2) by corey on Tuesday July 09, @11:45PM

        by corey (2202) on Tuesday July 09, @11:45PM (#1363599)

        Yeah true. Another way to look at it, is that they were happy with how things were and didn’t have the desire or need to change anything. At least they lived sustainably.

  • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @05:02PM (3 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @05:02PM (#1363564)

    Two slightly burnt, fat-covered sticks discovered inside an Australian cave are evidence of a healing ritual that was passed down unchanged by more than 500 generations of Indigenous people over the last 12,000 years, according to new research.

    500 generations over 12,000 years. Scientifically accepted without question due to some cave art.

    But the moment you bring up the metric fuckton of written, verbal, and physical evidence both in and out of scripture over ~5,000 years relating to the life of Yeshua/Jesus/whatever it's obviously changed, full of shit, and a complete man-made fable.

    Go figure.

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bloodnok on Tuesday July 09, @06:04PM (2 children)

      by bloodnok (2578) on Tuesday July 09, @06:04PM (#1363574)

      So, at least 12,000 years ago someone made up some shit about how burning fat-covered sticks would make you well, possibly based on someone's coincidental reprieve, and people still believed it 12,000 years later.

      And 5,000 to 2,000 years ago various people made up a fuck-ton of shit, some possibly based on real events, and 2,000 years later people still believe it.

      I don't understand where you think the difference lies.

      __
      The major

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @06:42PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 09, @06:42PM (#1363577)

        Science accepts that one happened as fact, and the other as a fantasy that never happened.

      • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 10, @12:37PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 10, @12:37PM (#1363639)

        You know, a fat covered stick probably makes a reasonable, if primitive, candle. Maybe it wasn't anything to do with bullshit religion. Maybe they just wanted some light.

  • (Score: 3, Touché) by SomeRandomGeek on Wednesday July 10, @03:25PM

    by SomeRandomGeek (856) on Wednesday July 10, @03:25PM (#1363657)

    There is simply not enough evidence to say that this ritual was passed down unchanged over 12000 years.
    There is evidence for some elements of the ritual: a stick, of casuarina wood, cut in a certain way, cover with fat, burned.
    But there is no evidence one way or the other for many elements of the ritual: sick person, a belonging of the sick person tied to the end of the stick, chant the name of the sick person, wait for the stick to fall.

    This is the archaeological equivalent of finding a 12000 year old candle, and claiming that 12000 years ago people lit candles to the virgin mary to pray for people's souls. It does not inspire confidence in the quality of the rest of the archaeology.

  • (Score: 1) by pTamok on Wednesday July 10, @08:27PM

    by pTamok (3042) on Wednesday July 10, @08:27PM (#1363694)

    So I'm right to say humans are notoriously (usually) destructive, and the inhabitants of Australia (and New Zealand) are not an exception, which is a shame.

    We are the bad guys.

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