50,000-years of history

First-Footprints-Ep2-Prof-Peter-Veth,-Prof-Paul-Tacon-and-Ronald-Lami-Lami,-Djilurri-Rock-Shelter,-Arnhem-Land-2From creating the first maps and painted depictions of the human face to completing the earliest open sea crossing, Australia’s Indigenous people have accomplished some of the world’s most impressive achievements, according to a new television program.

FirstFootprintsscreeningontheABC tells the more than 50,000-year history of Indigenous people in Australia using oral histories, art sites never before seen on TV and the latest archaeological discoveries.

The epic tale, told in four episodes, spans ice ages when people shared the land with 6m lizards and giant marsupial lions, a period of global warming when 25 per cent of greater Australia receded into the oceans and the agricultural age.

First Footprints producers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean said the program relied heavily on rock art sites, such as those in the Pilbara’s Murujuga National Park, to tell the story of Australia’s first people.

“For the first time on television the stunning achievements of the nation’s Aboriginal ancestors are brought to life,” the duo said.

“The wealth of the rock art in Australia, and the way it can inform our knowledge of the past, is truly breathtaking.

“There’s more rock art here than in most of the rest of the world put together.”

With First Footprints broadcasting to a national audience, the program has added to long running calls for rock art on the Burrup Peninsula, known to traditional owners as Murujuga, to be World Heritage-listed.

University of Western Australia archaeologist and professor Peter Veth, who appears on the ABC program, said the peninsula contains more than a million engravings.

“It’s probably the world’s largest rock art province and it has been found to have the values required for world heritage listing,” he said.

“A unique asset like this is of outstanding universal value and deserves special attention.”

Along with Murujuga, Australia contains tens of millions more engravings with 4,000 art sites located near the country’s most populous city Sydney.

Despite this, Veth said many Australians were still to fully appreciate the global importance of these sites, especially when compared to the status afforded similar sites in France, Britain, the US and “even parts of China and South America”.

Viewers can rejoin the journey of the first Australians this Sunday July 21 as episode two of the four-part First Footprints series tells of the Last Ice- Age from 30,000-15,000 years ago.

During this period, Australia’s giant mega fauna died off as deserts spread across 60 to 90 per cent of the continent in what was the biggest drought ever experienced by people.

Indigenous people adapted to the changes through innovations, such as the grindstone, and passed on important information, like sources of water, through oral Songlines that became a blueprint for survival in the harsh environment.

Earlier, viewers learned in last week’s episode how the first Australians, arriving more than 50,000 years ago, engraved the first maps and paintings of human faces and set up trade networks across the country.

Later episodes visit the world’s oldest battle scenes in Arnhem Land and a period of global warming when coastlines were flooded in an event told in the

Pitjantjatjara’s Wadi Nyi Nyi Dreaming Story – possibly the oldest religious story in the world.

Episode Two: The Great Drought of the First Footprints series screens on ABC on Sunday July 21 at 9.25pm. 

Photos are courtesy of the ABC.

First-Footprints-Generic-Murujuga-Man-(back),-Murujuga,-Western-Australia-2

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