13th century drawing of cockatoo sparks rethink on ancient trade routes

Drawings of an Australasian cockatoo found in a 13th century manuscript in the Vatican library suggest that trade routes around Australia were thriving during medieval times, according to a study published in the journal Parergon.

(CNN) – Drawings of an Australasian cockatoo found in a 13th century manuscript in the Vatican library suggest that trade routes around Australia were thriving during medieval times, according to a study published in the journal Parergon.

The four drawings were found in the “De Arte Venandi cum Avibus” (The Art of Hunting with Birds), a book of ornithology and falconry written by the Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick II.

The latest drawings come 250 years before what was previously considered the oldest European depiction of a cockatoo — found in Italian renaissance painting “Madonna della Vittoria”, according to Heather Dalton, one of the authors of the study.

This finding suggests that trade off of Australia’s northern coast — an area referred to as Australasia — was occurring much earlier than previously thought.

“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,” Dalton said in a press statement from Melbourne University.

Researchers involved in the study believe the cockatoo could be a female Triton, or one of various sub-species of Yellow-Crested Cockatoo, which originated from Indonesia, the islands of New Guinea, or Australia’s northern point.

This finding suggests that trade off of Australia’s northern coast — an area referred to as Australasia — was occurring much earlier than formerly thought.

“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,” said Dalton.

Dalton believes the cockatoo traveled from Australasia to Cairo and then on to Sicily. Dalton estimates the cockatoo’s journey with traders would have taken several years.

“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,” said Dalton.