Ned’s Corner dig discovery offers diet clues

A LA TROBE University archaeological dig on Ned’s Corner Station has found evidence that Aboriginal people in the area were eating large numbers of river mussels and aquatic snails to supplement their diet as south-eastern Australia emerged from the last glacial period 15,000 years ago.

DIGGING UP THE PAST: Dr Jillian Garvey is leading a team of 10 La Trobe University students in an archaelogical dig at Ned’s Corner.

DIGGING UP THE PAST: Dr Jillian Garvey is leading a team of 10 La Trobe University students in an archaelogical dig at Ned’s Corner.

Dr Jillian Garvey, who is leading a team of 10 La Trobe University students in the second year of the five-year project, said they are excavating an extensive shell midden that, from radiocarbon dates obtained during a preliminary excavation several years ago, appears to be about 15,000 years old.

Dr Garvey said that, 15,000 years ago, south-east Australia was emerging from the peak of the last glacial period, and conditions would have been very windy, reducing plant productivity and the abundance of animals like kangaroos and other small marsupials. 

The Murray River and local creeks, billabongs and lakes would have been a relatively reliable source of shellfish and fish during the coldest time of year.

The common freshwater mussel, Altathyria jacksonii, is a filter-feeder, and with freshwater snails, would have provided a source of zinc and other trace elements that are essential for human health.

The midden is about 400 metres long and 20 metres wide, but only about 5cm thick. 

Despite its extent, and the huge numbers of mussel and snail shells in it, Dr Garvey said deposition of the shells may have occurred at a low rate, over many thousands of years – a pattern detected in some very large middens along the Victorian coast.

Previously, the snail shells were thought to represent by-catch from the mussel harvest, but the abundance of snail shells in the Ned’s Corner midden were a clear indication that people were eating them in large numbers.

Dr Garvey said the apparent abundance of mussels and snails in the diet was not necessarily indicative of the various food sources people were exploiting 15,000 years ago.

For more of this story, purchase your copy of Tuesday's Sunraysia Daily 17/06/2014.

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