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First peoples’ knowledge of the “mysterious fairy circles” in the Australian deserts has upended a long-running scholarly debate


Drone image of Spinifex’s ‘fairy circles’ in Nyiyaparli people country, East Pilbara, Western Australia. Credit: Dave Wells, provided author

What are “imaginary circles”? They are dotted blobs of bare earth, regularly scattered across the barren grassland. Scholars first described fairy circles in Namibia in the 1970s and sparked worldwide controversy in the scientific community About the reasons for the phenomenon.

In 2016, a group of concluded international scholars that, in the Australian Pilbara, “fairy circles” arose from spinifex plants competing for water and nutrients—an explanation similar to that which they proposed for the fairy circles in Namibia. these stories It was exaggerated by the mediabut no desert indigenous voices were reported.

In a study published in nature and its evolution Today, we feature what our Aboriginal co-authors have always known–that the imaginary circles of Western Australia’s deserts are flat, solid “sidewalks” inhabited by spinifex termites (Drepanotermes species).

Knowing the country

Aboriginal people lived in the western desert of Australia, including the Pilbara, at least 50,000 years And know their country deeply. We are grateful to be part of this multicultural team of researchers that includes Western Sahara scholars and scholars.

Our starting points included open curiosity. Some of us know little about spinifex grassland ecosystems. None of us knew about the “imaginary circuits” or the international scientific controversy. However, we all wanted to learn, and we were interested in learning together. As our research evolves, the more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. We learned things that were new even to those who have lived and studied deserts their whole lives.

The knowledge of the first peoples led to

Colleague Peter Kendrick next to a termite dock in Nyaparle Country, Western Australia. The flat, bare pavement is surrounded by unburned spinifex grassland, its hard surface covering the underground ants. Credit: Fiona Walsh

We’ve seen parallels between the styles in specific Aboriginal artwork and aerial views of the sidewalks. We found paintings that tell deep and complex stories about termites and the activities of the termite’s ancestors (dome).

People in the Western Desert call Marto the piers of the circle of fairies Linyji and the fat-rich flying termite Warturnuma. We learned that the hard surfaces of the lingi were used to thresh seeds and flying termites from the prized food. Marto’s colleague Gladys Karimara-Beddo said:

“Linyji are the homes of termites that live underground. We gathered and ate the Warturnuma that flew from the linyji. The Warturnuma is Wama, delicious. The old people also put their seeds on the hard linyji. They beat the seeds to make it dampened; our good food. I learned this from the old people and saw This myself several times.”

Termites as relatives

This knowledge about docks and termites is shared and passed down through generations by the Martu and other indigenous groups. Australian Wildlife Conservation colleagues Alice Nambiginpa Michaels and Lee Nangala Wayne describe their feelings about flying termites. in this video. Alice said,

“Bamabardo, the big mob. Waternoma and Pamabardo we call them. I was crying for Pamabardo. I was crying for my brother. My brother is dreaming.”

Why such strong feelings? Spinifex termites are close relatives of them. The ones that live in docks are like the crustaceans of desert ecosystems – they are so plentiful. Most people think of termite mounds above ground, but here is an entire community that lives mostly below the surface of the soil, only coming out to eat dead spinifex or fly off to reproduce.

Most Australians consider Cinefix Grassland “waste country”. One of the patrons even said this while we were digging through the termite docks. He was about to set Spinifex (and maybe us) on fire. Termites, including those on spinifex, are often abused and poisoned by Australians. However, these vast tracts of land and termites are of great importance to Aboriginal people in ways that were invisible to some members of our team.

New scientific findings from Aboriginal knowledge

Our cross-cultural search has yielded unexpected results. Termite docks retain water after heavy rains, something that was unknown to scientists until we learned of evidence in the stories and art of the country’s aborigines. Porongo Desmond Taylor, Marto’s translator and co-author, I remembered Mulyamiji, the Great Desert Skink, describes a breeding behavior not previously reported by scientists:

“After heavy rains in the country of the Lenigi, Muliameji was born in the waters lying on the Lenigi. My uncle, my mother, my father, told me this long ago.”

The indigenous people refined their encyclopedic knowledge while living continuously on this continent for thousands of generations. Listening to the voices of the Sahrawi indigenous people has improved our understanding of how the rural desert operates everywhere, yet is often ignored.

We have learned that flat, hard lingi are used to prepare foods, they can become ephemeral sources of water and support muliameji reproduction, they provide abundant and rich food sources, and they have deep spiritual significance.

This year, Australians will be asked to recognize Australia’s First People in our Constitution. In our experience, we strengthen our bonds with the country and each other when we nurture relationships, listen carefully and engage together, and act fairly and in both ways.

Introduction to the conversation

This article has been republished from Conversation Under Creative Commons Licence. Read the The original article.Conversation

the quote: First Peoples’ knowledge of ‘mysterious fairy circles’ in Australian deserts has upended a long-running scientific debate (2023, April 8) Retrieved April 8, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-peoples -knowledge-mysterious-fairy-circles.html

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