"We've known for a long time that Aboriginal people have these songlines where the songs describe the features of the land," said Norris. "And we've known that [some Aboriginal groups] use the stars as a compass. But then people talk about these journeys that you can see in the sky but it's never quite clear about how that maps onto the songlines on the ground.
"For the first time we are actually hearing the details of how this actually works. We've never been able to map one onto the other like this before."
Rather than use stars as direction points, the Euahlayi and Kamilaroi elders use the stars as a reminder of where songlines go, often months before they travel to their destination.
"In some cases people have these songlines with the words of the song telling them how to navigate, but they also identify places on the ground with places in the sky," said Norris.
The songlines covered thousands of kilometres, with one example going from Heavitree Gap near Alice Springs in central Australia, all the way across to Byron Bay on the New South Wales east coast connecting the Arrenrte people to the Euralayi people.
The songline is marked in the sky by the star Achernar in the in the West overhead to Canopus, to Sirius, and then to the east.
"Songlines cross over the lands of many different Aboriginal groups, and each has their own bit of the song in their own language," said Norris. "Someone from the east will recognise a specific star songline right across Australia, even though it's not in their language."
Although massive songlines exist right across Australia, Norris says it is not known if they use star maps the same way as the Euahlayi and Kamilaroi people.
Further research on the use of other star maps for travel by other language groups, particularly other language groups that may have met the Euahlayi peoples, may lead to a clearer understanding of the Aboriginal use of the night sky for travel, say the researchers.
Get more from ABC Science
Neandrathals Loves Veggies with Their Meat Climate Forced Peruvians to Migrate Supernova Lifts the Veil on Stardust This article originally appeared on ABC Science; all rights reserved.