21 January 2014

Does a kangaroo in 400-year-old manuscript prove the Portuguese discovered Australia?

A kangaroo in a circa 1600 sheet of processional music from Portugal?
If so, it could prove the Portuguese were the first Europeans to reach Australia.
(Source: Les Enluminures Gallery)
An illuminated manuscript recently acquired by the Les Enluminures Gallery in New York which dates to between 1580 and 1620 has a drawing in a capital letter of an animal that looks conceivably like a kangaroo (or wallaby) munching on a plant.  If it is a kangaroo, it may be persuasive evidence that the Portuguese reached Australia before the first accepted European landing there by Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon in 1606.

The manuscript, a sheet of liturgical music, also has a images of half-naked men wearing a chaplet of leaves that could be a depiction of Australian aborigines.

An Australian aboriginie?
(Source: Les Enluminures Gallery)
Laura Light, a researcher at the Les Enluminures Gallery, said that "a kangaroo or wallaby in a manuscript this early is proof that the artist of this manuscript had either been in Australia, or even more interestingly, that travellers' reports and drawings of the interesting animals found in this new world were already available in Portugal."  The theory of the Portuguese discovery of Australia has been around for at least two centuries, but still lacks definitive proof.

Dr. Martin Woods of the National Library of Australia said the kangaroo-like animal could be "another animal in south-east Asia, like any number of deer species."  Dr. Peter Pridmore of La Trobe University suggests that the animal depicted could be an aardvark.

Les Enluminures Gallery plans to display the manuscript, with many others from January 24 to February 21, 2014, in an exhibit entitled "Sacred Song: Chanting the Bible in the Middle Ages and Renaissance."

The debate about the possible European discovery of Australia before 1606 continues.

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