Questions for ‘Carvings on Australia’s boab trees reveal a people’s lost history’

A photo of a large boab tree in the center with several smaller trees spread out around it

This boab is engraved with the image of a snake. It’s one of 12 carved trees rediscovered during a 2021 expedition into Australia’s Tanami Desert. The carvings have cultural ties to the Jaru, an Aboriginal group from the Kimberley region in northwestern Australia.

D. Lewis

To accompany Carvings on Australia’s boab trees reveal a people’s lost history


Before Reading:

  1. Besides writings, what kinds of archeological findings could tell us the most about the mythology and beliefs of ancient people?
  2. Myths and legends were important to many ancient people — and even today, mythologies of past civilizations continue to inspire books and films. For example, the Marvel hero Thor was inspired by ancient Scandinavian mythology. Why do you think mythology was so important to people of ancient times? Why do you think mythology remains important to people even today?

During Reading:

  1. What are dendroglyphs?
  2. What did the Australian government do that disrupted Australian Aboriginal families between 1910 and 1970?
  3. What is a coolamon? What was the significance of the boab trees decorating the coolamon gifted to Anne Rivers?
  4. If researchers want to study dendroglyphs, why must they hurry? 
  5. Besides Aboriginal peoples, who has contributed to “the outback archive,” as described by Darrell Lewis? What is the name of the desert where Lewis hoped to discover his “biggest find”?
  6. Briefly describe the story connecting Ludwig Leichhardt to a boab tree. How did this story contribute to the study of dendroglyphs? 
  7. What do researchers mean by saying boab trees “pull a disappearing act” after death?
  8. What does the word “Lingka” mean to the Jaru people?
  9. What challenges did the group that set out from Hall Creek in 2021 face?
  10. How many trees with dendroglyphs did the 2021 group discover? What animal was most commonly represented? What is the cultural significance of this animal?

After Reading:

  1. In Aboriginal Australian traditions, what are “Dreamings”? Explain the connection between Dreamings and dendroglyphs.
  2. In one sentence, state the purpose of dendroglyphs, based on what you’ve read in this story. Next, think about what people in your own culture use today that might serve a similar purpose to Aboriginal dendroglyphs. Finally, imagine a far-future archeologist is studying object from your culture. State one conclusion this far-future archeologist might make about your culture, based on that object.
  3. Brenda Garstone’s mother and aunt make up a generation of Aboriginals known today as the “Stolen Generation.” How do you think this name came about? Garstone says the rediscovery of the dendroglyphs has been “healing” for her mother and aunt. Why do you think they find this rediscovery healing?