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No. 121: Jan-Feb 1999

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Problems Of Aboriginal Art In Australia

In SF#117, we reproduced some Australian rock art featuring sylph-like, flowing human figures quite unlike today's aborigines. In our more recent library searches, we have come across an old article that provides additional examples of the socalled Bradshaw paintings -- more of those graceful human forms with long, billowing tresses. Very out-ofplace in today's Outback.

The same article adds an even more puzzling human representation to the burgeoning file of mysterious Australian art. It is a carving found in a cave of northwestern Australia. Here is the text accompanying the sketch.

"Another cave introduced a fresh problem. Fronting it, high up on the vertical face of a cliff, and unreachable without mechanical aid, had been carved out of the solid stone a human head in profile, which I show. It was 2 feet long and 16 inches across, and 1-inch thick; and I leave my hearers to say whether it is not a striking and distinguished face. It is absolutely different from the heads of modern Aborigines. The worn edges of the cameo, where it joined the rock-surface, seemed to mark a long interval since it was carved; the difficulty of carving it where it stood must have been immense -- unless, indeed, the rock face had been near the ground at the time, and the ground had worn away since -- which, again, would probably imply antiquity.
"What a problem this Caucasian face presents! Is it that of some stranger from Europe long ago -- perhaps before the Portugese or Spanish visitors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? In all probability European ships traversed the Pacific before the days of Balboa; for Greek columns are found in an island of the South Seas; and the prevalence of small-pox among the Australians when we first settled there is said -- with what truth I must leave pathologists to decide -- to postulate previous residence of Europeans amongst them."

(Thornton, S.; "Problems of Aboriginal Art in Australia," Victoria Institute, Journal of the Transactions, 30:205, 1897.)

Modern Aborigine head

From Science Frontiers #121, JAN-FEB 1999. 1999-2000 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