Category Archives: AUSTRALIA

Australian Aboriginal people were baking bread and farming grain 20,000 years before Egypt

Australian Aboriginal people were baking bread and farming grain 20,000 years before Egypt

What would your response be if you were asked who were the world’s first bakers? Many people think of ancient Egypt first, where it is believed that bread was baked about 17,000 BCE first. But there is evidence that grindstones were used in Australia to turn seeds into flour 30 thousand years ago.

The Gurandgi Munjie group is revitalizing native crops once cultivated by Aboriginal Australians, baking new bread with forgotten flours.

At Cuddie Falls, in New South Wales, Archeologists found evidence of this in the form of an ancient grinding stone that was used to turn grass seeds into flour.

These were the bakers of antiquity. It took Egypt 12,000 years to repeat this baking experiment. Why don’t our hearts fill with wonder and pride?

“Environmentally it’s a pretty good deal,” says Pascoe of growing these native crops.
This map gives an indication of how much we can learn from Aboriginal grain production. Norman Tindale documented that Aboriginal grain harvests occurred over most of the Australian continent but contemporary grain areas make up less than a quarter of that area.

Australian sovereign nations cultivated domesticated plants, sewed clothes, engineered streams for aquacultural and agricultural purposes, and forged spiritual codes for the use of seed in trade, agricultural enterprises, marriage, and ceremony.

This was and is an incredible human response to the difficulties of fostering economic, cultural and social policies. It may be unique in its longevity but also in its ability to flourish without resort to war.

Australia’s reluctance to acknowledge what was lost can be witnessed in our ignorance of the birth of baking, the gold standard of economic achievement.

Why is this? Is it a malicious refusal to recognize the economic triumphs of the people from whom the land was taken or a simple culture of forgetting fostered by the bedazzlement of Australian resources and opportunities?

Grinding grain into flour, and Lake Mungo bread made from Panicum descompositum

If we could rid ourselves of the myth of low Aboriginal achievement and nomadic habits, we might move toward a greater appreciation of our land.

We might begin to wonder about the grains that explorer Thomas Mitchell saw being harvested in the 1830s, and the yam daisy monoculture he saw stretching to the horizon of his ‘Australia Felix’, the early name given to western Victoria.

These crops must have been grown without pesticides and chemical fertilisers and in harmony with the climate; surely they are worthy of our investigation.

If you search for Australian research into yam daisies you inevitably come across, Beth Gott, an honorary research fellow at Monash University.

She has almost single-handedly led the interest in this wonderful plant. Inspired by her work, a Landcare group and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in East Gippsland have begun field trials into the staple of the southern Aboriginal economies.

A yam daisy garden under trial as a crop in East Gippsland.

Similarly, the fish traps at Brewarrina seen by Mitchell and other explorers created economic conditions that allowed the people to live in semi-sedentary villages of over 1000 people; Mitchell marveled not just at the villages’ size but also their comfort and elegance.

Since Mitchell’s report, however, you will look in vain for later reference to the Brewarrina fish traps even though some archaeologists have speculated that they maybe 40,000 years old and as such the oldest human construction on the planet.

Even if you accept the more common age of 15,000 years, these structures are still amongst the world’s first. Until recently, the sole publication about them was a 50-page book published in Brewarrina in 1976.

When we eventually acknowledge the food plants adapted to Australian conditions and domesticated by Aboriginal people, let’s hope we don’t just celebrate them every ‘Baker’s holiday’ but recognize the intellectual property Aboriginal Australia has vested in them.

Amber Fossil Shows Two Trapped Flies that Died while Mating 41 Million Years Ago

Amber Fossil Shows Two Trapped Flies that Died while Mating 41 Million Years Ago

One of the earliest, fossilized animals ever found are a pair of fornicating flies that were preserved in amber 41 million years ago. The frisky insects appear to have been in the very throes of passion when they got trapped in gluey tree resin and preserved — unparted, even in death.

A pair of fornicating flies that became frozen in amber 41 million years ago are among the oldest fossilized mating animals ever to be discovered. The frisky insects appear to have been in the very throes of passion when they got trapped in gluey tree resin and preserved

With time, the resin has transformed into amber and still has a twisted leg in the amorous couple. The fact that flies typically only take a few seconds to copulate makes the fossil find from Victoria, Australia even more rare and remarkable.

‘ You might conclude that the fly of these long legs was ‘ messed up ‘ 41 million years ago, ” said paper author and paleontologist Jeffrey Stilwell of the University of Monash at Melbourne, He was certain this was the scenario when the specimen was first analyzed — a fact which co-author Dan Bickel, a fly expert from the Australian Museum, then confirmed.

‘The flies could have accidentally landed on the tree resin to mate, and then got stuck forever together, literally,’ Professor Stilwell said.

‘You can imagine all of the statements by my amber student volunteers, one being “Doin’ it Gondwana style”, etc.’ Gondwana was an ancient supercontinent that eventually split into separate landmasses — including Australia.

Mating has been captured in amber unearthed from other parts of the world, but is nevertheless ‘very rare’, Professor Stilwell said. In Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film Jurassic Park, dinosaurs are reintroduced to the world by extracting their DNA from a mosquito that had been preserved in amber. Most biologists agree that such a scenario would not be possible. But many experts do believe that DNA can be preserved in amber for millions of years.

‘This is one of the greatest discoveries in paleontology for Australia,’ Professor Stilwell said. ‘Amber is considered to be the “Holy Grail” in the discipline, as organisms are preserved in a state of suspended animation in perfect 3D space, looking just like they died yesterday’

‘But, in fact, [they] are many millions of years old, providing us with an enormous amount of information on ancient terrestrial ecosystems.’

Professor Stilwell and colleagues stumbled upon the flies while trawling through almost 6,000 pieces of fossilized amber. The material was unearthed from rocks dating back from 54–40 million years ago found at two sites — one in Western Tasmania and the other in Victoria.

Among them were the two mating specimens of long-legged flies, known to the scientific community as ‘Dolichopodidae’. These bugs are commonly found across Britain and the rest of the world today.

‘This may be the first example of “frozen behaviour” in the fossil record of Australia,’ said Professor Stilwell.

‘Frozen behaviours are rarely recorded in the fossil record, but can be quite diverse, including defence, parasitism, feeding, swarms, and so on.’

Dolichopodidae comprises mainly small metallic flies. The adult males wave their legs when courting potential suitors. Other finds from the amber collection included a flake of amber containing a beautifully preserved biting midge and a larger piece with a long-legged fly and another biting midge.

Both specimens are about 41 million years old and were found in Anglesea, Victoria. The team also analyzed amber deposits unearthed by the team at other spots in southeastern Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand that dates back 230 million years. There were fossilized ants, the first Australian fossils of ‘slender springtails’, a tiny, wingless arthropod and an insect called a felt scale (Eriococcidae) — all-around 53 million years old.

There was also a cluster of juvenile spiders, biting midges (Ceratopogonidae), two liverwort and two moss species. They are the oldest known animals and plants preserved in amber from Southern Gondwana. Finding Triassic, Cretaceous and Paleogene fossils from an ancient tree resin in Australia and eastern New Zealand is a dream come true,’ said Professor Stilwell.

The researchers also analyzed amber deposits unearthed by the team at other spots in southeastern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand – dating back 230 million years. There were fossilized ants, the first Australian fossils of ‘slender springtails’, a tiny, wingless arthropod and an insect called a felt scale. Pictured, an artist’s impression of ants getting stuck in resin

‘We now have our first definite glimpses of ancient subpolar greenhouse Earth ecosystems, when Australia and Antarctica were attached and situated much further south in higher latitudes.’

‘Many discoveries are the first-ever for their respective groups of animals and plants, including the first-ever ants, springtails and others, including the first recorded evidence for “frozen behaviour” in the fossil record of mating flies.’

‘There has never been a fossil ant recorded in Australia before, but we can now state for the first time that ants have been a significant part of the Australian ecosystem for over 40 million years.’ Most amber records are from the Northern Hemisphere. The study has confirmed it was abundant in the ancient supercontinents of Southern Pangea and Southern Gondwana.

‘The research furthers our understanding of prehistoric southern ecosystems in Australia and New Zealand during the Late Triassic to mid-Paleogene periods — 230 to 40 million years ago,’ added Professor Stilwell.

5000-Year-Old Papua New Guinea Artifacts Rewrite Neolithic History

5000-Year-Old Papua New Guinea Artifacts Rewrite Neolithic History

Previously found at ancient Asian and European sites, Now for the first time in New Guinea, the signs of a cultural shift in toolmaking and the lifestyle of farmers found.  

Excavations at New Guinea’s Waim site began in 2016 after local residents discovered these stone artifacts. The finds included mortars, pestles, carved faces, and club heads.

Archaeological Dig at a highland site called Waim produced relics of a cultural transition to village life, which played out on the remote island north of Australia around 5,050 to 4,200 years ago.

Archaeologist Ben Shaw of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and colleagues report the findings March 25 in Science Advances.

Dr. Ben Shaw and some locals examine a few of the Papua New Guinea artifacts unearthed at the Waim dig site in the northern highlands.

Agriculture on New Guinea originated in the island’s highlands an estimated 8,000 to 4,000 years ago. But corresponding cultural changes, such as living in villages and making elaborate ritual and symbolic objects, have often been assumed to have emerged only when Lapita farmers from Southeast Asia reached New Guinea around 3,000 years ago.

In Asia and Europe, those cultural changes mark the beginning of the Neolithic period. The new finds suggest that a Neolithic period also independently developed in New Guinea.

Key finds at Waim consist of a piece of a carved human or animal face that probably had a symbolic meaning and two stone pestles bearing traces of yam, fruit and nut starches.

Other discoveries include a stone cutting or chopping tool, a pigment-stained stone with deep incisions that may have been used to apply coloring to plant fibers and an iron-rich rock fragment that was likely struck with other stones to create sparks for igniting fires.

Farming’s rise on New Guinea apparently inspired long-distance, seagoing trade, the scientists say.

Chemical analysis of an unearthed chunk of obsidian — displaying marks created when someone hammered off sharp flakes — indicates it was imported from an island located at least 800 kilometers away.

Some of the Papua New Guinea artifacts – formally manufactured stone carvings and pestles from Waim.

A Culture Rich Enough to Rival the Greatest in Europe or Asia

These new discoveries are evidence of an ancient island culture, which had developed sophisticated craftsmanship with a range of tools and crafts, that according to the paper had developed “of its own accord in New Guinea.”

Dr. Shaw says that while it has for a long time been argued that social complexity “didn’t come with agriculture in New Guinea,” his new research has identified similar cultural archaeology, evidencing great developments, as is found in Europe and Asia.

The team of researchers is planning to conduct additional excavations around New Guinea to try and find more evidence about the cultural practices that emerged during the transition to agriculture, and maybe even more artifacts pertaining to their complex culture.

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

19th-Century Shipwreck Studied in Southern Australia

Maritime archaeology at the University of Flinders helped show a little more of the past of an early Australian-made timber shipwreck in Victoria.

Marine archaeology student Aurora Philpin taking an off-set measurement while mapping the ship’s keel.

Heritage Victoria collaborated with the University’s annual maritime field archeology school and Victoria’s community-based Maritime Archeology Society last month to investigate a wreck near Rye Pier on the Mornington Peninsula.

The wreck is a small Australian-built ship believed to be Barbara which wrecked at Rye in 1853. Barbara was built along the Tamar River in Tasmania by Joseph Hind in 1841 and operated as a lime trader in Port Phillip Bay.

The research showed that the wreck was a very rare example of an early Australian ship that would tell the story of Australia’s early shipbuilding industry

15 graduate and undergraduate students worked with maritime archeology professionals at the annual University’s Maritime Archeology Field School.

Diving archaeology students on-site with Heritage Victoria research vessel Trim and Flinders University’s Tom Thumb stand by

The team comprised members from around Australia and the rest of the world, including the USA, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, and the Netherlands.

Flinders University Associate Professor in Marine Archaeology Wendy Van Duivenvoorde says measured drawings, photographs, and underwater photogrammetry was used to record the wreck while a survey team mapped the surrounding land and seascapes.

“We also excavated small sections of the wreck that allowed us to document the construction methods and wood species used,” she says.

Heritage Victoria’s boat Trim was used to transport personnel and equipment to the wreck site, acted as a dive and safety platform for divers working on the site.

The wood, metal and fibre samples collected from the wreck have, so far, shown that the ship was constructed from different wood species of trees originating from the southeast (Victoria, New South Wales), northern Australia, and Western Australia as well as local Tasmanian blue gum.

“This is possibly the first time such a wide variety of timbers have been found in one Australian built vessel and indicates that early shipbuilders had developed a detailed knowledge of the properties of Australian timbers appropriate for shipbuilding,” Associate Professor van Duivenvoorde says.

“The builders of Barbara also appear to have been willing and to access non-local materials for this ship.

“We are still waiting for the results from the metal and fibre analysis.”

All the data that was collected during this investigation will be included in Heritage Victoria’s records and added to the story of Australia’s history, Heritage Victoria says. A detailed report on the project will be compiled later this year.

Students measuring the ship’s sternpost.