New Findings Dispel the View That Australia’s First Peoples Were ‘Only Hunter Gatherers’

Related Articles

Related Articles

Archaeologists at The Australian National University (ANU) have found the earliest evidence of Indigenous communities cultivating bananas in Australia.

The evidence of cultivation and plant management dates back 2,145 years and was found at Wagadagam on the tiny island of Mabuyag in the western Torres Strait.

The site comprised a series of retaining walls associated with gardening activities along with a network of stone arrangements, shell arrangements, rock art and a mound of dugong bones.

 

Soils from the site showed definitive evidence for intensive banana cultivation in the form of starch granules, banana plant microfossils and charcoal.

Lead researcher, Kambri-Ngunnawal scholar Robert Williams, says the findings help dispel the view that Australia’s first peoples were “only hunter gatherers”.

“The Torres Strait has historically been seen as a separating line between Indigenous groups who practiced agriculture in New Guinea but who in Australia were hunter gatherers,” Mr Williams said.

“Our research shows the ancestors of the Goegmulgal people of Mabuyag were engaged in complex and diverse cultivation and horticultural practices in the western Torres Strait at least 2,000 years ago.

“So rather than being a barrier, the Torres Strait was more of a bridge or a filter of cultural and horticultural practices going both north and south.

“The type of banana we found on Mabuyag appeared much earlier on New Guinea, which was a centre of banana domestication.”

The team also found stone flake tools with plant residues along their cutting surfaces.

“What we’re seeing here is an Indo-Pacific horticultural tradition based primarily on things like yams, taro and banana and important fat and protein elements in the form of fish, dugong and turtle, these people had a very high-quality diet,” Mr Williams said.

“Food is an important part of Indigenous culture and identity and this research shows the age and time depth of these practices. I hope it will spark interest in these food traditions and might move people back towards them.”

Mr Williams said the charcoal found at the site indicated burning for gardening activities. Excavated charcoal provided dates for the finds through radiocarbon dating.

Co-researcher Dr Duncan Wright said the Torres Strait region was a place where local innovations took place.

“The age of the banana propagation is also very significant. It’s not something we expect to see in continental Australia and this is the earliest well dated evidence for plant management in Torres Strait,” Dr Wright said.

“At the time I thought it was odd to see cultivation in a landscape otherwise set aside for ritual activities. Now we know why, the retaining walls were part of a much older phase of activity at Wagadagam.”

As a descendant of the Kambri Ngunnawal peoples, Mr Williams said he was mindful of how his research could affect a first nations’ community.

“Historically, culture has been appropriated by non-Indigenous archaeologists and anthropologists, so it was really important for me to make a connection with the people in this community and ensure they understood the research really belongs to them.

“I hope this work is something the community can be really proud about. It demonstrates through clear evidence the diversity and complexity of early horticulture in the western Torres Strait.”

Mr Williams is the lead author on the research published in Nature, Ecology and Evolution.

He did his Masters in Archaeology at ANU and is currently a third year PhD candidate in the Department of Archaeology at Sydney University.

“This paper is led by a First Australian author. It’s another big achievement for Robert, whom I suspect will play an important role in the discipline of Archaeology,” Dr Wright said.

“His work makes a statement that goes beyond academia, representing a much-needed shift for the discipline where research into First Nations’ communities is led by First Nations’ peoples.”

AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY

Header Image Credit : ANU

Download the HeritageDaily mobile application on iOS and Android

More on this topic

LATEST NEWS

The Great Wall of Gorgan

The Great Wall of Gorgan, also called the "The Red Snake" or “Alexander's Barrier” is the second-longest defensive wall (after the Great Wall of China), which ran for 121 miles from a narrowing between the Caspian Sea north of Gonbade Kavous (ancient Gorgan, or Jorjan in Arabic) and the Pishkamar mountains of north-eastern Iran.

Aelia Capitolina – Roman Jerusalem

Aelia Capitolina was a Roman colony, constructed after the siege of 70 AD during the First Jewish-Roman War, when the city of Jerusalem and the Second Temple on Temple Mount was destroyed.

Wild Birds as Offerings to the Egyptian Gods

Millions of ibis and birds of prey mummies, sacrificed to the Egyptian gods Horus, Ra or Thoth, have been discovered in the necropolises of the Nile Valley.

Karahundj – The Ancient Speaking Stones

Karahundj, also called Carahunge and Zorats Karer is an ancient stone complex, constructed on a mountain plateau in the Syunik Province of Armenia.

Palaeontologists Establish Spinosaurus Was Real Life ‘River Monster’

A discovery of more than a thousand dinosaur teeth, by a team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth, proves beyond reasonable doubt that Spinosaurus, the giant predator made famous by the movie Jurassic Park III as well as the BBC documentary Planet Dinosaur was an enormous river-monster.

Archaeology Uncovers Infectious Disease Spread – 4000 Years Ago

New bioarchaeology research from a University of Otago PhD candidate has shown how infectious diseases may have spread 4000 years ago, while highlighting the dangers of letting such diseases run rife.

Buhen – The Sunken Egyptian Fortress

Buhen was an ancient Egyptian settlement and fortress, located on the West bank of the Nile in present-day Sudan.

The Modhera Sun Temple

The Sun Temple is an ancient Hindu temple complex located on a latitude of 23.6° (near Tropic of Cancer) on the banks of the Pushpavati river at Modhera in Gujarat, India.

Popular stories

The Secret Hellfire Club and the Hellfire Caves

The Hellfire Club was an exclusive membership-based organisation for high-society rakes, that was first founded in London in 1718, by Philip, Duke of Wharton, and several of society's elites.

Port Royal – The Sodom of the New World

Port Royal, originally named Cagway was an English harbour town and base of operations for buccaneers and privateers (pirates) until the great earthquake of 1692.

Matthew Hopkins – The Real Witch-Hunter

Matthew Hopkins was an infamous witch-hunter during the 17th century, who published “The Discovery of Witches” in 1647, and whose witch-hunting methods were applied during the notorious Salem Witch Trials in colonial Massachusetts.

Did Corn Fuel Cahokia’s Rise?

A new study suggests that corn was the staple subsistence crop that allowed the pre-Columbian city of Cahokia to rise to prominence and flourish for nearly 300 years.