A new study has found Aboriginal dreamtime stories were linking meteorites to impact craters and the origins of life, thousands of years before modern science.
While the night skies play important roles in many traditional cultures around the world, Duane Hamacher from Sydney's Macquarie University says the Arrernte and Luritja people of central Australia have an unusually strong focus on meteors, meteorites and impact craters.
Writing in a paper published on the pre-press website arXiv.org, Hamacher examined Arrernte and Luritja dreamtime stories collected by early European explorers, missionaries and scientists travelling through Alice Springs and Hermannsburg (Ntaria).
Hamacher says the Arrernte and Luritja knew about the nightly and yearly movements of stars. He was surprised to see how many stories feature meteorites as origins of life.
"You wouldn't expect to know that without some scientific training."
Bringing life to Earth
According to Hamacher one story spoke of life coming from two rocks that fell out of the sky.
"These rocks were people described as stars falling to the ground; they were like Adam and Eve," he says. "Another described how the egg of life was accidently dropped from the sky, falling to the ground and breaking into pieces, bringing life to the Earth."
Hamacher says science has recently confirmed that amino acids - the basic building blocks of life - are transported to Earth by comets and meteors.
Rainbow serpents and fire devils
The Djaru of Western Australia believe Wolfe Creek crater, also known as Kandimalal, was caused by a cosmic impact, representing the spot where the Rainbow Serpent (whose eyes are seen as a meteor) crashed to the Earth.
Another tale tells of the Henbury crater field in the Central Desert, which was caused by a fragmented nickel-iron meteoroid leaving 13 craters as it impacted.
"Aboriginal people wouldn't camp anywhere near the site, wouldn't go into the craters, or collect water from them, because they feared the fire devil would rain iron on them," says Hamacher.
"It happened a little over four thousand years ago. Since Aboriginal people have been here a lot longer than that, it's almost certain someone saw it."
According to Hamacher, one elder says his great grandfather witnessed the event, describing it as the fire devil coming from the Sun.
"Even into the early 1900s, the link between meteorites and craters wasn't considered proper science [by scientists]. Rocks didn't just fall out of the sky," he says. "It turns out, yes they do!"