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Whalers’ Rock Art Recorded in Northwestern Australia

Monday, March 4, 2019

Australia whaling inscriptionPERTH, AUSTRALIA—Live Science reports that Alistair Paterson of the University of Western Australia and his colleagues recorded rock art made by nineteenth-century American whalers on two of the islands in northwestern Australia’s Dampier Archipelago. The carvings, which include names, dates, ships’ names, and anchor motifs, were etched on top of existing aboriginal images, which had been created over thousands of years and are found on all 42 islands in the archipelago. Whalers from America, Great Britain, France, and colonial Australia stopped at the islands—sometimes for months at a time—while hunting sperm whales and migrating humpback whales. One engraving, on Rosemary Island, was dated 1841 by a sailor on a ship named Connecticut who carved over an indigenous grid pattern on the rock. Paterson said a second indigenous grid was later inscribed over the whaler’s carving. Because some areas of the rocks were still smooth and would have served as better engraving surfaces, Paterson suggests the whalers chose the locations for their carving deliberately, although he does not know what their rationale was. For more on archaeology in Australia, go to “Death by Boomerang.”

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