The Blue Labyrinth: Where Aboriginal Sky Gods Meet Ancient Egyptian Ankhs
By Steven Strong, published on March 26, 2014
The very first time Evan and I were introduced to the archaeology of the wider Blue Mountains region, we heard talk of this place being called the ‘Blue Labyrinth’ or ‘Blue University’. It just didn’t sound fitting and we put it down to an apparently awkward analogy tainted by the dominant culture. The mere notion that the formal trappings of a university had some sort of relationship to sacred Original sites and artefacts appeared ludicrous, and maybe even a touch patronising.
Within two days of first hearing that uncomfortable comparison, we had turned full circle. Well, almost. The university link is somewhat tenuous, but the idea of calling this area the ‘Blue Labyrinth’ – that works so well on so many levels that we are lost for a better alternative. But it wasn’t the star markers, hieroglyphs, artefacts, tunnels, shafts, walls, metal objects, compasses or relics found in the wider area that led to us to this realization. That all came later. It was simply that nothing else comes close to describing it.
Very distinct tribal signatures be observed in Original art styles around the continent, but here, there are very different rules at play.
Many forms of Original art are supposed to be region specific, limited to one tribal estate. Many published books have detailed how Wandjina’s are found in the Kimberleys (WA), Mimi Art is a product of Arnhem Land (NT), Papunya Art comes the from the Centre, and so the formal separation of styles under the custodianship of each tribe continues throughout the country.
New Rules at Play
Our count of distinctive Original art styles and techniques used in this area is nowhere near complete, and stands at over 20 distinct styles and applications that seem to fall into three general profiles. The largest and most diverse category addresses a variety of Original spiritual and cultural concerns, and include examples of Panaramitee Art, X-Ray Art, Mimi Art, Wandjina Art, Lightning Brothers Art, Papunya Art, Representational (“Bradshaw”) Art, Figurative Art, Hand Stencils (three types), rock engravings, rock peckings, rock stackings and rock arrangements.
From that solid yet diverse foundation there are two thematic extensions apparent at this site; Egyptian and Celestial. We believe that the 31 engraved banded men attending a whale feast, an ibis print beside an engraved Ankh, ancient Egyptian iconography, profiled Gods and sacred shield designs, along with some of the 300 odd hieroglyphs at Bambara, resonate to a decidedly ancient-Egyptian theme. And, looking further into distant constellations, are a series of Original Sky Heroes who are of immense importance. Each engraving is without a neck and wears what Darkinoong Elder Auntie Beve calls “hats” or helmets.
This theme continues on the Bambara ‘glyph walls, of which we believe a large proportion were created by Original hands and are far older than the smaller Egyptian text, and more celestial in its narrative. Then, spread all around the hieroglyphs and engravings of “carriers from up there” are thousands upon thousands of engraved star markers.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. When describing the amazing quantity and diversity of Original art and forms of communication evident in the Blue Mountains and Gosford regions, we must first examine the unexpected concentration of so many distinctive tribal styles and techniques in the one geographical area.
Too Many Variations
The quantity, quality and variations on the Wandjina theme was so obvious and repeated throughout so many rock platforms that we actually gave up counting. There was no consistency in the number of rays radiating out of the head/helmet of the human figures; all we can say is that the great majority of engravings have between five to nine rays emanating from the head. And as with the Wandjinas found in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, the figures have no mouths, and even though many experts and officials have undoubtedly seen these Wandjina engravings spread throughout rock platforms in the Blue Mountains and Gosford regions, every academic textbook still maintains – inexplicably – that they are only found in the Kimberleys.
The same can be said for the Lightning Brothers, Yagjadbula and Jabaringi — ancestral beings from the Dreamtime. The two rain-making Sky Heroes are mistakenly assumed to be restricted to the Central Desert region. I personally stumbled across the Lightning Brothers carving in the Gosford area, and it was the very first piece of archaeology I ever actually ‘discovered’. But alas, at that very early stage my rock art photography skills were basic. The one photograph I took was appalling, and even though I have sent site-finders Ryan and Gavin what I thought were the site’s co-ordinates, we have been unable to relocate this engraving. Unfortunately, I have no empirical proof bar a shadowy, poorly taken photograph showing a couple of indistinct lines to the left of centre – and my word.
Fortunately, Evan (and his camera) was with me when we came upon some charcoal depictions, inside a cave, which resemble little Mimi figures from the Top End. Mischievous but harmless sprites, they are thin and hide between the rocks and out of the wind. Always captured in movement, and depicted by a cross between a stick figure and the more representational human form, what we saw in quite a few caves was identical to the Mimi Art considered to be an exclusive part of the Top End art styles.
We saw lines of dots, utaglios and variety of symbols that are so much a part of Papunya Art (commonly referred to as ‘dot art’), but instead of the desert setting assumed to be synonymous with this style, the sandstone platform and salty air runs contrary to the expectation that this style only appears in, and originated from, the centre of the continent. The same can be said for the many examples of Panaramitee Art (SA) and X-Ray Art (Arnhem Land) found on site, which are seemingly thousands of kilometres from ‘home-base’.
What really widened the gamut of artistic requirements and sophistication was the appearance of two forms of human representation – figurative and representational. The figurative style is simplistic, functional and seemingly devoid of artistic finesse and skills. Requiring so little inherent talent, these simple stick figures are something even I could create.
But all bets were off once we entered the Cave of the Golden Boomerang. Without doubt this is the most amazing and utterly unexpected Original painting or engraving I have seen. I still remember my reflex was to compare it to the Sistine Chapel.
In its prime, when songs were given and retouching was appropriate, this would have been a magnificent gallery of Original representational art. Close to 30 metres (98ft) in length and five metres (16ft) in height, each of the three human figures (two females and one male) has been engraved and painted in ochre and is larger than human size by approximately 50%. And it is undoubtedly ancient; an engraving of a thylacine (Tasmanian Devil) which has been extinct on the Australian mainland for no less than 5,000 years supplies a base minimum age.
Of course, some experts of rock art, Graham Walsh in particular, make claim that the Bradshaw Art (from Gwoin Gwoin WA) was created by much earlier non-Aboriginal hands because of the sophistication, attention to detail and human-like proportions on display. They reason that, because there was no example of any advanced form of representational art in the continent, unknown outsiders must be responsible.
Walsh and any who support this offensive allegation are wrong twice over. Not only is there another piece of representational art in Australia, thousands of kilometres from Gwoin Gwoin, but it is far superior in technique, and is larger and more specific in muscle form, body curve, hairstyle, individual fingers, heels and toes. This presentation alone is awe inspiring, but the content is also incredibly deep and mystical – the reason why I so quickly likened it to the Sistine Chapel. The first woman figure reaches towards the heel of a second woman who seems to be floating on water, or is air-borne. She reaches forward towards a male figure, who stands with his right arm extended, reaching towards the sacred Golden Boomerang.
Unlike elsewhere, we saw three distinct hand stencil styles used in the Blue Mountains and Gosford samples. The common group has ochre splattered outside, however there are also hand stencils filled in, and on one occasion the stencil begins just below the elbow. Without question rock engravings, along with some examples of peckings, are the prominent art/communication form of this region. There are literally thousands upon thousands of rock engravings in the area. Far less numerous are the rock arrangements, which are nearly always a series of rocks providing direction and distance.
Even less common but far more striking are the piled and stacked rocks. On one site, hundreds of small rocks have been carried to the site and placed together to form round conical semi-pyramids. But without doubt the most enigmatic and impressive stone arrangement we have yet found are the stone stacks. Each was carefully chosen and positioned, and as delicate as they may appear they are extremely well balanced. It is a reasonable assumption, given the masses of astronomical markers and designs surrounding these constructions, that these stunning stacks of rocks are yet another example Original art of the highest order, marking out something sublime as they ascend upwards towards the stars.
If we saw no more than this, if our barely half-complete overview of Original art/communication styles (which at present stands at thirteen) was the sum total of history’s output, it is enough to raise some serious questions about our understanding of ancient Original culture. There are far too many styles and techniques on show to fit into any accepted theory of Original art. All rules are broken here.
From our perspective, the point is already proven, but we still have to demonstrate why such massive variations are at hand. And as always, the answer is in the land – but is divided into ‘here’ and ‘there’.
Following the Ancient Connection
With a solid Original foundation accounted for, we will extend the discussion to a portion of the ‘here’ that is very much part of the region’s scenery: ancient Egypt.
To get a better understanding as to why this area is so unique, we need to begin our Egyptian expedition at the beginning, which happens to a lounge-room wall that was used as a screen to show us images of some of the locations we were to visit over the following three days. It was on that wall that we first saw 31 human figures standing or walking in a line beside a large whale. No two figures were the same; their height and width varied, some had sashes, others had arms raised. Every person was different, and deliberately so.
My immediate impression was that these figures are symbols or ‘glyphs that were placed in a specific order to create a written narrative. Even though none had a direct counterpart to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, these figures performed the same role and may have been the pre-cursor to other ancient scripts. Or maybe not…. It could be that the official two-worded explanation – “whale feast” – is not just an enormous oversimplification. Irrespective of syntax, our curiosity was certainly aroused and for the first time ever, a new potential participant, the ancient Egyptians, was thrown into tomorrow’s mix.
On site, from the very first platform on the very first day, this Egyptian theme and motif was in evidence. Without doubt the Ankh was the centre of attention, not only because of the faithful replication in shape and proportion to the supposedly Egyptian proto-type held by Thoth, the God of Knowledge and Wisdom, but the difficulty in photography it was also a pressing concern. According to the Ex-Senior Ranger of Brisbane Waters NPWS, it is the oldest of the fifty odd engravings on the platform. Our guide, who studied geology at Cambridge, was adamant the Ankh was at least 10,000 years old. In what only adds to the intrigue, there is an engraved ibis footprint alongside the Ankh, which is one of the two animal forms Thoth embodied.
Thoth is not alone, nor is it coincidental that we found the God of Wisdom and Knowledge near a 1.5 metre (5ft) engraving of the Egyptian God of Inheritance. Remaining faithful to the same royal theme is a magnificent engraving of Duramulan and Ngalba in conflict with malevolent spirits, carved in the same general location. Undeniably the male (Duramulan) is the son, the Creation spirit. But elsewhere in the region is an engraving of Duramulan with a profiled ibis head, while on this occasion the head is also in profile but bears ape-like features and an extremely ornate tall headdress that looks very Egyptian.
Profiling human faces thus hiding one eye, is an ancient Egyptian form that is unknown to us in this country. We have seen Original engravings and paintings of animals side-on with one eye showing, but never a human. What further evidences this common sensibility, Ngalba defeats the evil spirits with the assistance of her sacred shield, the design of which is found throughout Australia. Meanwhile, this same narrative resonates throughout Egypt, for it was there (or perhaps here) that Isis used the Shaft of Tet to assist in bringing back Osiris from the underworld.
Following this ancient Australian/Egyptian connection to its logical conclusion invariably leads us back to the hieroglyphs, but with one exotic addition. The Ankh, engravings of Thoth and the God of Inheritance, and even the 31 men in procession were all created with rock-and-stick technology, but this is not the case with one section on the smallest of the three sandstone walls. No-one, whether advocate or strident critic, has proposed that these engravings were created by anything less than a metal blade, thus (seemingly) negating any possibility it was carved by Original hands. Nevertheless, given its antiquity, we can conclude that these carvings were created with the permission of the local Original tribes, and that such an endeavour was encouraged throughout the region. This combination of script is unique to this specific site and must therefore be registered as a semi/Original style, worthy of academic acknowledgement.
Given the sheer volume of evidence that Egyptians lived throughout the Australian continent for a substantial amount of time, we are well past wondering “if” and more attuned to seeking out “why”. Why did ancient Egyptians risk the hazardous journey across the ocean to the far side of the Australian continent? Whatever incentive was found here had to be of the utmost importance, especially considering the Egyptians didn’t find a single temple, foundry, factory, wheel, piece of metal, clothing or coin here on their arrival. However, we believe there is ample evidence engraved into rock to offer an answer to this question….
Throughout this region, time after time, we see images of Gods/Sky Heroes without necks or fingers, and a formless body outline with a head that just sits onto the shoulders. From the very beginning of this research, I kept thinking ‘helmets’, and considered it a good chance these figures are wearing suits. Of this group, we are aware of the Dreaming Stories and roles associated with two Sky Heroes, and both are mainly focused on the stars above. The absence of necks, curves and body features is deliberate. We have seen exquisite portrayals of the human form at the Cave of the Golden Boomerang, with defined necks, toes, fingers and muscles, but here we see just two eyes, hands, feet, legs and arms.
Of course, whenever we are unsure, we consult the proper Original Elder, and it was no surprise when Auntie Beve replied to my query by stating the men are wearing “hats”. With no word in the Original language for space helmets, the nearest equivalent would indeed be “hats”.
In the celestial pursuit of the neck-less Spirits, the Original people of this area have no peer. There are engraved cupules that we believe served astronomical functions, and in some cases dozens of these carved markers have been found and charted. At this site, all we can say is that the count runs into the several thousands. When we first reluctantly provided an estimate, we proposed three thousand as a maximum, then four, now four and a half thousand – but only as a minimum. On one rock platform alone, our count of engraved star markers is just under 400, while the adjoining platform also carries more than 200. Academics who examined a sampling of this count noted there were at least eight different types of star markers.
Returning to the question “why did ancient Egyptians sail to Australia?”… it has as much to do with the celestial archaeology; they came for what was engraved alongside the much shorter Egyptian narrative on the Bambara ‘glyph walls.
It has been our contention for some time that most of the Bambara hieroglyphs were engraved before the Egyptians first arrived. We believe the knowledge contained within the first written script, widely used across Australia, was the continent’s main attraction. It is quite possible that some metals, in particular gold, were also mined with consent and extreme care, but first and foremost the Egyptians sought mystical insights and knowledge of the Divine. How human life began, supplemented by a detailed explanation of how the beings aboard the “carriers from up there” form part of the Original peoples’ ancestry, these insights were enough to launch Egyptians boats in pilgrimage to the land where people were first created – the place Auntie Beve refers to as “The Beginning Place”.
It is irrelevant whether the majority of ‘glyphs were cut by extra-terrestrial beings or by Original humans with access to far more advanced technology than ‘accepted’ history reveals; the same logic applies. Older panels were either created by the Original people or made by their Sky-Heroes – either way they represent no less than semi-Original script and, again, are worthy of academic acknowledgement.
Coming In or Going Out?
How the concentration of so many styles and techniques came about in one region is a difficult question to answer, but is not without two obvious candidates.
Our first reaction was possibly influenced by the description of the ‘Blue Labyrinth/University’; we reasoned that this place acted as a knowledge repository for the continent. We even went to the extent of suggesting such a site might be the inspiration behind the latter-day Alexandria. With all the Egyptian paraphernalia in the area, it all seemed to go together. But once we were on country and under Auntie Beve’s guidance, we heard another explanation that is more in fitting with the archaeology, and an ancient Original narrative.
Being a fully-initiated keeper of Lore, Dreaming stories and Old Ways, if anyone could have knowledge that may assist, Auntie Beve is always our first port-of-call. She has told us more than once that this is the place where people began, from where all others evolved: the “Beginning Place”. As the population increased, there was a fear they would “in-breed”, so to compensate, some were sent out to locations near and far, and strict rules relating to marriage and blood lines were enacted. Given that this was the case, as a family, clan or tribe moved away from their original country, they took their customs, ceremonies and art styles with them.
So, instead of being brought into country and stored in a repository, somewhat like a library, everything was in fact duplicated on its way out of this place. No less potent or sacred on their new territories, knowledge, language, art and ceremonies were taken from the melting pot by out-going clans/tribes, and adopted elsewhere. This also explains why there are so many different tribal languages across Australia, yet the same ancient stories are told by Elders the continent over; their ancestors shared a history, a genesis, and developed regional dialects and artistic bents over the millennia that followed their separation from the Beginning Place.
Taking into account the extensive archaeology in the region, one of those two scenarios had to have happened; either the Blue Labyrinth was a repository for the continent’s ancient knowledge, or the Original tribes took that knowledge with them when they left the area. Yet both scenarios are in stark contradiction with accredited texts and accepted historical curriculum. Unfortunately, that fact alone goes some way towards explaining why there is so little interest among academics to examine this merging of so many regional Original styles in one confined area. The physical evidence is there to be seen, and the Original stories are there to be heard, but it is clearly too challenging a concept to conservative historians who prefer the comfort of the status quo.
In our case, the choice is easy. We believe what Auntie Beve told us. If people began here, so too did art and language. And if people left from here, seeking other shores, the chances are extremely high their art and language – and genetics – did too.
About the author:
Steven Strong is an Australian-based researcher, author and former high-school teacher with a background in archaeology. He was involved in the formation of a Graduate Diploma of Aboriginal Education for the NSW Department of Education, writing units on Traditional Law and Contemporary History. He also co-authored the highly successful “Aboriginal Australia: A Language and Cultural kit”.
Together with his son Evan, Steve has co-written 4 books: Constructing a New World Map, Mary Magdalene’s Dreaming and Forgotten Origin (published by University Press of America) and their latest publication Shunned, which thoroughly refutes the Out-of-Africa theory of human history and examines the archaeological and DNA evidence that suggests Australia is where modern human beings derived.
Steve has written over a dozen articles on Original history and lore for the National Indigenous Times, with four articles also appearing in New Dawn magazine. With close to 30 years of contact with original Gumilaroi people and tribes of the Bundjalung Language Confederation, and the benefit of extensive consultation with many Original Elders, Steve and Evan’s work is to reveal the story of the Original people, a narrative that was almost lost to aggressive European colonisation.