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Space Science

Aboriginal Folklore Leads To Meteorite Crater 233

An anonymous reader writes "An Australian Aboriginal dreaming story has helped experts uncover a meteorite impact crater in the outback of the Northern Territory. From the article: 'One story, from the folklore of the Arrernte people, is about a star falling to Earth at a site called Puka. This led to a search on Google Maps of Palm Valley, about 130 km southwest of Alice Springs. Here Hamacher discovered what looked like a crater, which he confirmed with surveys in the field in September 2009.'"
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Aboriginal Folklore Leads To Meteorite Crater

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 07, 2010 @05:48AM (#30680380)
    Here [] it is. I went looking for it when the original story broke, without a picture or link, and easily found it. I knew where Palm Valley was, and from there the crater was pretty obvious. Mind you, it would be easy to dismiss it as an odd shaped formation if you didn't know you were looking for a crater, so hats off to Hamacher and the accuracy of "legend".
  • by Angostura ( 703910 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @05:53AM (#30680396)

    .... as far as I'm concerned is...

    Despite the link to the dreaming story, weathering and the absence of meteorite fragments suggest that the crater is millions of years old and humans could not possibly have witnessed the event, Hamacher said.


    His suggestion is that Aborigines may have learned to recognise craters from more recent impacts and then deduced the origin of the Palm Valley and Gosse's Bluff craters. Now, I don't know about you, but that feels extraordinarily unlikely to me, given the frequency of large meteorite strikes. But that might just be because I don't have the aboriginal sensibilities for land features.

  • Wonder... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by plasticsquirrel ( 637166 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @05:54AM (#30680412)
    I wonder how many "myths" have such a basis in true events? I'm reminded of the "hobbit humans" story where the native people had stories about them that had been passed down reliably for thousands of years. It seems that in our rush to be certain about our world, we are often too eager to dismiss the ideas of ancient people. It is unfortunate as well, because they cannot defend themselves, so they are especially easy prey for academics looking for notoriety.
  • by derdesh ( 652578 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @06:14AM (#30680496)

    Okay, I admit, I RTFA, and the crater in question has been dated as millions of years old, long before *anyone* claims humans capable of cultural transmission visited Australia.

    According to the article, the author himself thinks that the aboriginal Australians were sophisticated enough to recognize impact craters on the landscape, and what might have caused them, and concoct legends about falling objects to explain them.

    With all due respect to the parent post, the Indigenous Australians may have great knowledge that has been dismissed by their Western colonizers, but this is not evidence of such.

  • by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@gdarga[ ]net ['ud.' in gap]> on Thursday January 07, 2010 @06:19AM (#30680510) Homepage

    His suggestion is that Aborigines may have learned to recognise craters from more recent impacts and then deduced the origin of the Palm Valley

    I would like to point to a similar story. In France the town of Rochechouart [] sits on a meteor crater. The name of the town, dating back centuries, literally means 'Fallen rock'. But the crater is 200e6 years old and is hardly recognizable from the ground (it's 21km in diameter, yes, it was a big hit). So who and how did they name the city ?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 07, 2010 @06:29AM (#30680534)

    And what would you suggest we do to fix this? We've tried the 'just leaving them alone'. We've tried the 'throw copious amounts of money at them to promote development'. We've tried the 'educating them to help themselves'. We've tried both the carrot, and in the past, the stick, unfortunately.

    But nothing changes. And you can understand why ... their culture is most fundamentally a nomadic one. They have no concept of 'ownership' of land or property, and rarely stay in one place for long. Thus no amount of providing infrastructure does anything ... they simply aren't interested in that. They are quite happy doing what they've done for the last 80,000 years. And more power to them I say - except that the scourge of alcohol and other Western influences has corrupted this traditional lifestyle for many to such a point where their societies collapse.

    Australians are just as ashamed at the situation as you are. We've handed back vast tracts of traditional lands to the Aborigines (much like the Indian Nations in the US), but the native Americans seem to have done much better for themselves than the Australian Aborigines (from what I have seen during my numerous trips to the US, they are quite prosperous on their reserves and have good self-determination and leadership).

    Sure there are some racists around, like anywhere, but I firmly believe the vast majority of Australians are not prejudiced against the Aborigines. But the problems you describe are deep and very, very difficult to fix.

  • by phyrz ( 669413 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @07:03AM (#30680662)

    I spent a bit of time during some touristy native american stuff while i was in canada and alaska last year, those tribes are (were) WAY more advanced than the Australian native peoples that the comparision just doesn't apply.

    Native americans built full blown cabins where aborigionals largely still lived in caves and temporary shelter. They had a far better chance at integration.

    Yeah its sad whats happened to the aussie abos, but at the end of the day they, as a people, need to save themselves - they have been given whatever resources they need. And perhaps they are making progress like alcohol bans in some towns up north, mon-fri boarding schools for children so they get proper rest at night, and pouring money into aborigional art and expression (hip-hop, dance and so on).

    The biggest problem is that a large proportion of this and the next generation of aboriginal kids will be growing up with fetal alcohol syndrome. those kids dont have a chance.

  • by c6gunner ( 950153 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @07:07AM (#30680682)

    Thanks, you took the words right out of my mouth! Even if their stories directly referred to this crater, that's one semi-useful story out of thousands which are entirely worthless (other than for whatever artistic merit they may have). It doesn't come close to showing that there's any real value to their legends or their culture.

    It's even worse than that, though, since - as someone else pointed out - this crater is millions of years old. Their story is most likely entirely unrelated to that impact. Therefore the only "lesson" here is that if you dig through enough garbage, you may eventually run across some gold ... but your odds won't be any better than chance.

  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @07:26AM (#30680758) Homepage Journal

    One thousand years is a long time. If you put your mind to it you could walk from Africa to Asia or Europe in a year. I reckon 1000 years is easily enough to go from Africa to Australia. Quite possibly 100 years. Remember they are not diffusing like animals. Once they decide to go from A to B that is what they do. And the people who left Africa at 70000 BP were genetically identical to us, with the same potential.

    And I have this idea that sometimes the safest way to be is to move fast, especially if you have the intelligence to make good mental maps. That way if you strike a problem you can use your map to find a solution.

  • by Potor ( 658520 ) <farker1@gmai l . c om> on Thursday January 07, 2010 @07:31AM (#30680780) Journal

    Once they decide to go from A to B that is what they do.

    Are you implying that they knew what B was, and where it was? If they didn't, they were essentially wandering.

  • by imtheguru ( 625011 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @08:59AM (#30681226)

    " In remote central Siberia, there was a time when the Tungus people told strange tales of a giant fireball that split the sky and shook the Earth. They told of a blast of searing wind that knocked down people and whole forests. It happened, they said, on a summer's morning in the year 1908. "

    About 20 years later the legend of the fireball led to the search and discovery of what has become known as the 'Tunguska Event'. []

    As seen in Carl Sagan's Cosmos, episode 4, Heaven and Hell. []


  • by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @10:50AM (#30682332)

    Here's the problem. There's 7 billion of us. Either we continue with industrial agriculture or three-quarters of us die. If you're intent on protecting your young you'd be better off figuring out how to make industry less destructive than trying a return to pre-industrial ways.

  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Thursday January 07, 2010 @10:53AM (#30682366) Journal
    • We are wrong about how long humans have been on the planet
    • We are wrong about how long ago the impact was
    • We are wrong about the level of sophistication of pre-human ancestors in the area to relate such folklore
    • It is a serendipitous coincidence that such folklore happens to appear to match up with an actual meteor impact.

    The latter seems to me to be the most likely explanation at this time. There would need be far more such occurrences before I would even begin to start to presume one of the others.

  • by Virak ( 897071 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:27AM (#30682750) Homepage

    There is no "divorce from nature". In fact, man is doing the most natural thing possible: expanding and consuming until nature's limiter of resources, death, kicks in. This sort of thing isn't particularly odd in nature, the only difference is that usually there are other predators and such that keep the other species in line. Humans, however, are the predator above all predators, and with all these shiny toys we've built up over the millennia, there's not really any threat from any animal on the planet to us, so the usual checks and balances that would keep such behavior from going to such pathological extents do little.

  • by AndersOSU ( 873247 ) on Thursday January 07, 2010 @11:31AM (#30682818)

    It's not a european trait, it's a human trait.

    The privileged want more privilege, and they get it by taking from the already less privileged.

    In Europe, the pendulum was on it's way back to (relative) equality since the feudal system collapsed (for a whole variety of reasons, severe inequality cannot be sustained in the long run.) When Europeans started establishing colonies, it was a whole new dynamic, and exploitation ruled.

    If you look, you will find throughout history dominant cultures expanding and crushing native cultures (with varying degrees of success). There undoubtedly used to be hundreds, if not thousands of native European cultures, but waves of empire building and proselytizing has smoothed out all but the subtle differences. Africa was much more culturally diverse before the zulu expansion, and the han didn't always dominate interior china. As a rule, the dominant culture gets that way by eliminating or occasionally merging with competing ones, but either way no culture goes on unchanged.

    History of civilization in a nutshell:
    1. Identify the traits of a group different from you.
    2. Deny resources to anyone with those traits.
    3. Profit.

  • We must soon advance on a personal level to no longer need more than the quintessential Australian aboriginal. Imagine, if you will, yourself in their clothes by the side of a road as a glutton in a SUV drives by, when re-evaluate the meaning of "primitive".

    Imagine the same Aborigine seeing your coddled butt parked in a Starbucks with a laptop and sneering at your "gluttonous" neighbors.

  • by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <slas45dxsvadiv.v ... m ['eve' in gap]> on Thursday January 07, 2010 @01:56PM (#30685094) Homepage

    They don't need to witness an event.

    They just need to see a meteor in the sky, and then later find the crater.

    As was pointed out, the entire purpose of dreamtime is to know the landscape. They know the landscape very well. They're going to notice if a big damn crater shows up.

    Hell, they don't even need to figure out that a specific meteor in the sky caused the later. They see meteors all the time, they know about the 'shooting stars' as Europeans called them, and they apparently came to the same, logical conclusion that they were stars that had broken loose and fallen down. (They already knew that some of them were loose, aka, the planets.)

    As any fool can figure out how impact craters work by watching rocks drop into water, it seems a very logical conclusion that an brand new geographic feature that looks like what happens when rocks are dropped into water was made by something dropping into the land. Duh.

    So what drops from above? Well, there are stars up there that come loose...maybe a star hit here!

    And once they knew that land can suddenly be shaped like that, and that the 'story' for such land is 'it got hit with a falling star', of course they're going to label the other places where land is shaped like that with similar stories. (As that is, in fact, the entire point of dreamtime, to make up stories for the land so you can remember what the damn thing looks like because you haven't invented maps yet.)

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