Scientists are stunned that an Aboriginal legend supports genetic research into how palm trees got to Central Australia.
Palm Valley, located within Finke Gorge National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory, is only accessible by four-wheel drive. Its arid maze of sandstone amphitheatres, pinnacles and gorges is a curious home to the Red Cabbage Palm – the only place in Central Australia where they survive. The nearest specimens are 600 miles away in Queensland.
It had been assumed that the palms were prehistoric remnants of the Gondwana supercontinent up to around 100 million years ago, when the climate supported tropical rainforests.
However, genetic analysis of the palm seeds published in 2012 by Professor David Bowman of the University of Tasmania found that the Palm Valley population only separated from its Queensland neighbours up to 30,000 years ago – concluding they were carried to the Central Desert by humans.
Professor Bowman was later amazed to read a recently translated Aboriginal legend, recorded in 1894 by German anthropologist and missionary Carl Strehlow, describing how “gods from the north” brought the seeds to Palm Valley.
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.”