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No. 117: May-June 1998

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Aliens, Mystery Races, Or Aborigines?

Some of Australia's rock art -- the Wandjina paintings -- depicts humanoids in fulllength gowns with strange halos encircling their heads. Those favoring the "ancient astronaut" theory assure us that the Wandjina figures are those of alien visitors! The so-called Bradshaw paintings don't fit in the "alien" category but they are so interesting that we choose to reproduce one here. It raises three problems: (1) The slim, flowing human figures remind one more of the Tassili rock art found in Africa's Sahara rather than that of the Australian Aborigines; (2) The objects at the left are enigmatic and technical-looking; and (3) The symbols (?) at the top are undeciphered.

The article at hand from Antiquity does not attempt to interpret the Bradshaw art. Instead, it discusses the social factors that mold the interpretation of the Wandjina and Bradshaw paintings. When Europeans first saw these paintings they were certain that their "advanced style" was far beyond the capabilities of the Aborigines (colonial prejudice). They must, therefore, be the work of "preAborigines." Today's Aborigines will have none of this condescension. They were the original settlers of Australia, and as such they have bona fide land and title claims. Any recognition of "pre-Aborigines" would undercut these claims.

(McNiven, Ian J., and Russell, Lynette; "'Strange Paintings' and 'Mystery races': Kimberly Rock-Art, Diffusionism and Colonialist Constructions of Australia's Aboriginal Past," Antiquity, 71:801, 1997.)

Comment. In New Zealand, the Maoris insist they were the first settlers, despite evidence to the contrary. The Maoris, too, have land claims.

Australia's rock art: the Wandjina paintings

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987