Four sketches and a written description of a white cockatoo survive in a mid 13th-century manuscript from Sicily, now held in the Vatican Library, according to a new study. This finding, reported in the journal Parergon, suggests that trade in the waters in and around Australia’s north was flourishing as far back as medieval times, linked into sea and overland routes to Indonesia, China, Egypt and beyond into Europe.
The four colored drawings and description of the Australasian cockatoo were discovered by University of Melbourne researcher Heather Dalton and her colleagues from Finland in the manuscript De Arte Venandi cum Avibus (The Art of Hunting with Birds).
The book dates from between 1241 and 1248 and was written in Latin by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II.
In the book’s margins are several hundred drawings of falcons, falconers and other animals kept by the emperor at his palaces.
The four sketches of the cockatoo pre-date by 250 years what was previously believed to be the oldest European depiction of a cockatoo, in Andrea Mantegna’s 1496 altarpiece Madonna della Vittoria.
Dr. Dalton and co-authors believe Frederick II’s cockatoo — described in the text as a crested, talking parrot — could be a female Triton sulphur-crested cockatoo (Cacatua galerita triton) or one of three sub-species of the yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea). This means the bird originated from Australia’s northern tip, New Guinea or the islands off New Guinea or Indonesia.
The Latin text next to one of the images reveals that the bird was a gift from the fourth Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt to Frederick II, who referred to him as the ‘Sultan of Babylon.’
“Frederick II of Sicily made contact with the Kurdish al-Malik Muhammad al-Kamil in 1217 — a year before al-Malik became sultan of Egypt,” the scientists explained.
“The two rulers communicated regularly over the following twenty years, exchanging letters, books and rare and exotic animals.”
The team pieced together the journey a cockatoo would have taken from Australasia to Cairo and then on to Sicily — a journey which would have been primarily overland and taken several years.
“Although our part of the world is still considered the very last to have been discovered, this Eurocentric view is increasingly being challenged by finds such as this,” Dr. Dalton said.
“Small craft sailed between islands buying and selling fabrics, animal skins and live animals before making for ports in places such as Java, where they sold their wares to Chinese, Arab and Persian merchants.
“The fact that a cockatoo reached Sicily during the 13th century shows that merchants plying their trade to the north of Australia were part of a flourishing network that reached west to the Middle East and beyond.”
Heather Dalton et al. 2018. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen’s Australasian cockatoo: Symbol of detente between East and West and evidence of the Ayyubids’ global reach. Parergon 35 (1): 35-60;
Source link: https://www.sci.news/archaeology/australasian-cockatoo-sicilian-manuscript-medieval-trade-routes-06140.html