Evidence of earlier settlements

We now have some reason to believe that people lived on the Ugly Islands at least once in the past, and possibly more than once. This evidence is proving rather hard to asssemble, but we are doing our very best to get it to you.

Steve Lander says:

The evidence that Bill James has collected is not yet available for the general public, but it is looking very exciting. The only problem is that Bill is a bit inclined to get carried away and read too much into a small amount of information.

I'm sure Bill won't mind me saying this. Several other people are also convinced that Bill is right this time, but I think we should wait a bit longer, and get a bit more evidence before we jump to conclusions.

Most of his theory involves the pipestone piles on the outer reefs of Big Ugly, which Bill James says could not have got there by chance, and he thinks there must have been extensive settlements here, and that they may have been wiped out by a tidal wave, storms or disease.

A tidal wave seems the most likely, but if that was the cause, how did the pipestone piles survive? Keep checking -- we'll let you know as soon as something definite turns up!

Bill James says:

While there have been no recorded inhabitants in historical times, there is now clear and undeniable evidence that the island was once inhabited by a highly advanced civilisation. So far, nobody has been able to establish a reliable date for these people, but they probably occupied the islands from something like 300 AD to 1400 AD.

They have left behind huge stone structures on the reefs around the islands, built of long columns of basalt, and a number of giant stone wheels, 2.5 metres in diameter and 35 cm thick, have been found buried on Little Ugly.

I believe that the people may well have had a population similar in size to our own, but using stone tools, so that they would have left few traces for us to discover. Additionally, if they were wiped out by a catastrophe such as severe storms or a tidal wave, this could explain why there is so little evidence to be seen.

People have come up with all sorts of claims about where this civilisation came from: some say they were Egyptians, Vikings, the Lost Tribes of Israel, Incas, Chinese, a lost Roman legion, even King Arthur. None of these ideas is very likely, so for now the earliest settlers are usually just called "The Old Ones". The Islander is well-informed on my continuing investigations of the Old Ones, and the interested reader should turn to that journal for more information.

Professor Fenwick says:

In my view, the evidence is incontrovertible. There have been visits by mariners from a number of races in the past as evidenced by a variety of rock engravings which I have found in the caves of Big Ugly, around the edge of Mount Cloudmaker.

The runes carved into one piece of basalt have clearly been done with metal tools, and suggest to me that a longship, perhaps organised by some of the Varangian guards of Byzantium, must have sailed here. Unfortunately, the runes seem to make no sense, and so must have been in some form of code, but they are undoubtedly the same as runes seen in other parts of the world.

More importantly, the hieroglyphics that I found on a stone on the Wombah Ridge of Cloudmaker link perfectly with the fact that Ptolemy the geographer was aware of Australia, as early as 150 AD. How else could he have known, if there had not been regular trade between the Ugly Islands and the "civilised world"?

Description of the "forts"

This is a late 19th century account of the piles of basalt rock on the reefs of the Ugly Islands, taken from a diary belonging to Henry Cruciform, who went there to collect specimens of the African Shouting Spiders of the islands. The original diary is held in the Mitchell Library Sydney, and the crushed basalt he refers to is probably the Bombo quarry at Kiama.

The text has been edited to the extent that modern measurements have been used.

Columnar basalt is spectacular. In Ireland, it makes the Giant's causeway, in Scotland it makes Fingal's Cave, and in Australia, they quarry it and crush it to make aggregate for the railways and for concreting.

But somebody on the Ugly Islands found another thing or two to do with their columnar basalt. The other day, I went down by boat to look at "the fortress", where the walls are 7-metre-high stacks of columns lying on their sides. I estimated the masses of the individual pieces of stone at up to 10 tonnes, with some of them being more than 5 metres long.

The builders began by piling basalt boulders, up to 70 tonnes, on the shallow coral reef. Then they stacked the long columns, in two parallel lines, with shorter criss-cross pieces, sloping in and downwards. Then another set of two parallel lines, which are pushed in against each other. Having some small knowledge of dry-stone walling as it is practised in Yorkshire, I hazarded the guess that a few of the criss-cross pieces would go right through, and indeed they do. Perhaps the island was settled by Yorkshiremen who thought big?

There are about twenty of these islands, right out to the edge of the reef, where boats have to shoot through a three-metre gap, jink to starboard then back to port to pass through a second gap. When I say "shoot through", I mean just that, for you go through on the surge of a wave that is rolling in from the Pacific, with open ocean all the way up to the Bering Sea.

The problems: how did they quarry these long columns in one piece, with no metal tools, around 1000 AD, how did they transport them, how did they lift them, and why bother? (The answer to the last: it was almost certainly a ceremonial site, but for the rest, I have heard only speculation.)

Another thing: presumably the rocks were rafted into position: I am sorely puzzled by the surf-stoppers. Maybe they waited for extremely calm conditions, but that was still some feat, rafting and hauling the rocks into place in a heaving ocean swell.

I may have had a hint of the origin of these works when I went to the Uglets. Near the last islet, there was a pile of rocks, smaller pieces of basalt, poking out of the sea. There was once a house there, said our guide. It would be a handy spot to live: throw a line out and wait for the fish to bite, and fairly safe from attack by land, if you feared enemies. And if somebody came by sea, you could see them from a long way off: maybe the forts started that way, but it was surely also a huge religious and cultural complex. But who were the people?

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Last revised March 6, 2007.

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