Pots hold vital clues: Archaeologists focus on Eden in bid to unlock Australia's early history

Archaeologists from the Australian National University, Canberra, believe ancient European pots trawled from the bottom of the sea off Eden, may hold the key to rewriting Australia's history books.

Michael Hermes, who is coordinating a study of early European pottery finds around Australia with fellow archaeologist Dr Daryl Wesley, visited Eden this week.

Mr Hermes is in negotiations with the Eden Killer Whale Museum about access to an item, believed to be a Portuguese wine urn, which was found by fisherman Alan McCamish who was trawling in waters off Gabo Island in 1999.

The Eden Killer Whale Museum has one of these rare ceramics and another is understood to be in a private collection in Sydney.

Trawlers working off Eden have pulled up early ceramics over the years, leading Mr Hermes and Dr Wesley to their profound interest in the coastal region.

The ceramics may provide critical evidence in support of the theory that Australia was mapped by the Portuguese or Spanish as early as the 16th century.

The fact that there have been several finds of early artefacts in the Eden coastal region seems to Mr Hermes to be more than a coincidence and, in maritime archaeology, can sometimes be indicative of the presence of a shipwreck or even, that they may have reached land.

Though no thorough archaelogical study has been done, Mr Hermes said it has even been argued that the ruins of the whaling buildings at Bittangabee Bay are built on the remains of a rough shelter constructed by marooned Portuguese sailors in the 1500s.

Mr Hermes has urged anyone with one of these rare ceramic pots, or items of a similar nature, that has been found locally to get in touch with him or the Magnet.

Believed to be a Portuguese wine urn, it was trawled up by local fisherman Alan McCamish of Mark M in waters off Gabo Island in 1999.  Thermoluminescent dating conducted by Mr Price in 2006 dated it at 350 BP (equalling 1600 AD). Photo courtesy of Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Believed to be a Portuguese wine urn, it was trawled up by local fisherman Alan McCamish of Mark M in waters off Gabo Island in 1999. Thermoluminescent dating conducted by Mr Price in 2006 dated it at 350 BP (equalling 1600 AD). Photo courtesy of Eden Killer Whale Museum.

Archaelogists may rewrite Australia's history 

Archaelogist Michael Hermes says the Portuguese were great seafarers who arrived in Timor in 1515.

He says it is "barely credible" that they did not ever sail an extra three days to find the Great Southern Land over the next 100 years.

The shadow of Captain James Cook looms large and Mr Hermes says many historians, who are usually rational, can be strangely hostile to any challenge to this orthodoxy.

Dr Daryl Wesley and Mr Hermes can obtain all sorts of background information from studies into ceramics that may dispute history as we know it. 

“We can obtain a profile of the different minerals in the clay, such as iron, silica, quartz etc, which is like a fingerprint," Dr Wesley said.

"Then we can compare it with other mineral ‘fingerprints’ from  pottery found in Europe, the Caribbean and South East Asia where Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English fleets established trading outposts and colonies,” Mr Wesley said. 

These types of studies are like "looking for a needle in a haystack", and the archaeologists rely on the assistance of observant locals who can help them investigate these fleeting early European visitations to Australia. 

Main arguments hinge on whether early maps depict Australia 200 years before Cook.

Dr Wesley and Mr Hermes said people have argued since the 19th century that the Portuguese may have mapped much of the Australian coast in the 1500s and the two archeologists keep an open mind about this theory.

They are looking for any material evidence which may support or contest this "idea". 

A ceramic jar was found a few years ago on a mangrove mudflat near Darwin which has assisted them in this quest.  

The men are conducting mineralogical and other tests on the jar to establish where and when it was made in the hope of uncovering further information. 

Dr Wesley and Mr Hermes are part of a voluntary collective of heritage professionals, the Past Masters, who have a shared interest in early historic links between Indigenous Australians and the various Indian Ocean seafarers of the past millennium. 

Check them out on the internet at pastmasters.org.au or Facebook Past Masters Australia. 

Contact Michael Hermes if you have any information or artefacts regarding his investigation. Email: Michael-hermes@grapevine.com.au or mobile 0419 209 637.

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