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Campfire study reveals pharmacy, grocer in early arid Indigenous settlement

Tom Zaunmayr -

Researchers working in the Australian outback have uncovered evidence of Indigenous 'grocers and pharmacies' which are more than 50,000 years old.

A University of Western Australia team has been examining charcoal from ancient campfires in Martu country rock shelters in WA's Western Desert using a process known as archaeobotany.

That work has uncovered the use of wattle and other acacias has been prevalent in tool-making, food and medicines for more than 50,000 years.

UWA lead researcher Chae Byrne said the study proved wattle was critical to early Indigenous explorers who settled in arid parts of Australia.

Martu country where the fieldwork took place. Picture: Chae Byrne.

"I have walked in Country with Traditional Owners who have been kind enough to share their Knowledge surrounding the many uses for the vegetation which surround us," he said.

"They have taught me that there is a purpose and significance for every type of tree and bush; an ancient grocer and pharmacy which has provided and prospered for tens of thousands of years.

"Looking at plant remains is particularly useful in studying Australian Indigenous heritage, given the persistent importance of natural resources like trees and the rarity of other cultural remains in the deep time record."

Mr Byrne said charcoal held valuable information about environmental science and climate change.

The dig sites were in Karnatukul (Serpents Glen) and Katjarra (Carnarvon Ranges).

Researchers sampled trees growing in the region today, which could then be compared to ancient charcoal fragments from campfires in archaeological sites.

This is one of the first times that archaeobotany, or using plants in archaeological studies, has been used in Australia's deserts.


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