A recently discovered drawing of a cockatoo from the 13th century has opened up a slew of questions about European trade with Australia.
The drawing, which is 250 years old, depicts a cockatoo native to Australia.
So what was it doing in a manuscript from 13th century Sicily?
How did a cockatoo end up in 13th century Sicily? Among the handwritten documents, books, and ancient artefacts in the @VaticanLibrary there is a 13th century manuscript on falconry that contains images of an Australasian cockatoo. https://t.co/YYELsu76bg pic.twitter.com/L0Q42P07gZ
— UniMelb Newsroom (@uommedia) June 26, 2018
A historian at the University of Melbourne, Dr. Heather Dalton, who collaborated with the researchers for an article published in Parergon Journal, had this to say about the discovery:
I was just thrilled to bits of course. I just couldn’t believe that nobody had really talked about them, this is a high-profile document.
The main significance about it is we tend to think of our region, not just Australia, but the islands around it, as the very last things to be discovered; the European view is it’s almost this dead continent and nothing was happening until Europeans discovered it.
The fact that a cockatoo either from the northern tip of Australia, or from New Guinea or the islands around it, was traded to Cairo and on to Sicily is significant. It’s a window in on what I think was quite a vibrant trading network.
An Australasian cockatoo have been discovered in a manuscript from 13th-century Sicily, predating by 250 years the previous oldest European depiction of a cockatoo (1496). Evidence of medieval trade routes around Australia. VERY. COOL.https://t.co/Y3G2mxCIL9
— Dr Kate Wiles (@katemond) June 25, 2018
Twitter was abuzz with curiosity.
In the history of colonialism, Australia is considered a relatively late European “discovery.” But a 13th-century manuscript shows that, indirectly, Europeans had contact with Australia hundreds of years before they landed there. The evidence? A cockatoo. https://t.co/DROuJlLVQA
— Atlas Obscura (@atlasobscura) June 25, 2018
Some had their doubts it was legit.
And it's legit 13th C.? Not added several centuries after the fact?
— Phoenix Woman (@PhoenixWomanMN) June 27, 2018
It’s described in the text as well. The world was very interconnected then – we knew they had contact with Indonesia already. But it’s nice to see it represented in art
— Dr Kate Wiles (@katemond) June 27, 2018
And some folks had their doubts that the bird was from Australia, but that was put to rest.
Not Australia necessarily – more like the Indonesian archipelago, or, Philippines which both also have this bird.
— glengyron (@glengyron) June 26, 2018
— CC Cool J (@broek_af) June 26, 2018
Some people opted for a simpler explanation.
ah…they fly right?
— Ryan Buchanan (@SidCashman) June 27, 2018
Has anyone thought cockatoos can fly?
— osho (@secretozsanta) June 27, 2018
It can fly
— It Burns When I P…ut out fires (@ShredzArmy23) June 27, 2018
Maybe he flew there
— maggie (@MaggieDynamo) June 27, 2018
Of course there were still plenty of doubters…
Papua, Papua New Guinea and the other islands home to cockatoos – the name comes from ‘kakak tua’ (older sibling) in Malay – are not Australia.
— Keren Lavelle (@sleepingdingo) June 26, 2018
Its not a cockatoo though is it? Its a crested hawk or eagle probably a rare white form. The eye is that of a hawk joined to bill, nothing like a cockatoo which is completely separate from the bill which has nares like an eagle #bird #hawk #eagle
— Waving not Drowning (@Fool_Brittania) June 27, 2018
I've seen wild cockatoos in Sumba and Seram, and you get them at least as far west as Lombok – this doesn't prove any link between Europeans and Australia.
— Tim Jeffree (@tim_jeffree) June 27, 2018
More likely a yellow crested cockatoo from what is now Indonesia that did have trade routes established at this time.
— Rare Animals (@RareAnimals3) June 26, 2018
And there is always this excellent advice.
You can read the article 🙂 it discusses all this
— Dani Rabaiotti (@DaniRabaiotti) June 26, 2018
We’ll leave this debate for the experts.
H/T: The Guardian