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Scientific World Stunned at Accuracy of Australian Aboriginal Legend

Posted: April 5th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Applied Science, Cankler Science News, Ecology | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scientific World Stunned at Accuracy of Australian Aboriginal Legend

Scientific World Stunned at Accuracy of Australian Aboriginal Legend

The scientific community is stunned by research which backs an Australian Aboriginal legend on how coastal palm trees got to Central Australia. Tasmanian ecologist Professor David Bowman did DNA tests on palm seeds from the outback, and his conclusion is startling ::::

Scientific World Stunned at Accuracy of Australian Aboriginal Legend

Professor Bowman read an Aboriginal legend recorded in 1894 by pioneering German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, which was only recently translated, describing the “gods from the north” bringing the seeds to Palm Valley.

In 2012 Professor Bowman and a team of Australian and Japanese researchers set-out to answer the age-old puzzle, ‘how did a the red cabbage palm, Livistona Mariae end up in the middle of the sunburnt country?

In their previous research the scientists found Australian palms came from a Southeast Asian ancestor that was adapted to growing in dry environments, and only adapted to growing in rainforests later on.

However, Professor Bowman and colleagues used a genetic analysis to conclude that L. mariae is actually the same species as another Livistona palm, L. rigida, which grows in two pockets some 1000 kilometres away in northern Australia. The findings feed into a long-standing debate over whether the two are actually the same species or not.

In their study the researchers examined the genetic relationship between the L. mariae and L. rigida in more detail. They compared genetic fingerprints called nuclear microsatellite loci in 14 populations of L. mariae and L. rigida.

The researchers looked at L. mariae from the Finke Gorge’s Palm Valley oasis, and L. rigida from Mataranka, just south of Katherine, and from Lawn Hill near Mount Isa.

They found L. mariae was most closely related to the L. rigida from Mataranka, but the most surprising discovery was how recently the two diverged.

The research estimated that the L. mariae and L. rigida became separated just 15,000 years ago, completely ruling out that the palms in Palm Valley oasis are relics from Gondwana.

“What was shocking for us is that divergence was so recent, within the time period humans have been in Australia. We thought, ‘Yikes, that’s amazing’,” Professor Bowman said in 2012. “The results tell us something transported seeds from Mataranka which is just south of Katherine to Palm Valley 15,000 years ago.”

The results led him to conclude the seeds were carried to the Central Desert by humans, and not relics of a long gone landscape.

Professor Bowman read an Aboriginal legend recorded in 1894 by pioneering German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, which was only recently translated, describing the “gods from the north” bringing the seeds to Palm Valley. Professor Bowman said he was amazed.

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“We’re talking about a verbal tradition which had been transmitted through generations possibly for over 7,000, possibly 30,000 years,” Professor Bowman said. “Just an amazing coincidence that we’d independently concluded that the seeds had been transported and then subsequently we discover an Aboriginal legend is exactly what we found scientifically.

“The concordance of the findings of a scientific study and an ancient myth is a striking example of how traditional ecological knowledge can inform and enhance scientific research.

“It suggests that Aboriginal oral traditions may have endured for up to 30,000 years, and lends further weight to the idea that some Aboriginal myths pertaining to gigantic animals may be authentic records of extinct megafauna.”

Professor Bowman says that genetics is repeatedly showing how often outlying populations are not relics, but a product of long-distance dispersal instead. Another dispersed plant which was mistakenly believed to be a Gondwanan relic is the baobab.

Back in 2012, Professor Bowman mused that while a river might have been responsible for dispersing the seeds to Mt Isa via the Gulf of Carpentaria, there are no rivers to connect Mataranka to Finke Gorge.

A bird may have flown the tree to Central Australia and yet there is no evidence birds spread L. rigida to jungles nearby current established populations.

Another possibility that Professor Bowman supposed back in 2012 was that the spread of seeds was by Aboriginal people who ate parts of the palm and use other parts for weaving, says Bowman. But why would take them 1000 kilometres and nowhere else?

“It’s a beautiful mystery,” Professor Bowman mused. The teams research has been published in the Nature magazine.

@mcsixtyfive

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source: abc.science
source: nature/utas
source: anna.salleh
source: reuters
image source: wikipedia/indeepmedia

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