New archaeological research has found Victorian Traditional Owners were using moths as a food source some 2,000 years ago.
Discovered by Traditional Owners from Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) and archaeologists from Monash University, microscopic remains of a Bogong moth were found on a stone tool in a cave in Victoria’s Australian Alps.
The small grindstone held evidence of ground and cooked Bogong moths at Cloggs Cave, in the southern foothills of the Alps on the lands of the Krauatungalung clan of the Gunaikurnai peoples.
The discovery sheds light on the food practices of Traditional Owners in the area and gives the group claim to the first conclusive archaeological evidence worldwide of insect food remains on a stone artefact.
It also supports oral traditions of Bogong moths being used as food across southeast Australia.
Bogong moths were understood among many Traditional Owners groups to be a good source of nourishment due to their high fat content and large population.
The moths could be cooked over a fire or ground into a paste that was able to be smoked and preserved for weeks.
“Historical records are witness to our people going to the mountains for the Bogong moths but this project tells us that it also happened in the deeper past,” said Russell Mullett, GunaiKurnai Elder and GLaWAC Registered Aboriginal Party Manager.
He said the discovery reflects a lost part of cultural history.
“Because our people no longer travel to the mountains for Bogong moth festivals, the oral histories aren’t shared anymore, it’s a lost tradition,” Mr Mullett said.
“The world has become a different place, but for 2,000 years this grindstone has been sitting idle with a story to tell.
“A single artefact has sparked the rebirth of knowledge that helps to tell the story of the GunaiKurnai people.”
The moth remains were dated between 1,600 and 2,100 years old. Monash researchers say this proves Bogong moths were harvested, prepared and cooked by up to 65 generations of First Nations families.
“The archaeological visibility of Bogong moth remains on stone tools therefore now helps archaeologists better understand how people moved across the landscape in the deeper past,” said coordinating archaeologist Professor Bruno David of the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre.
Professor David said a lack of studies on insect food remains has seen an omission of the use of insects from deep-time community histories.
“Food is an expression of culture: think of snails and frogs’ legs and we think of French culture, we associate spaghetti with Italy. The absence of an iconic Aboriginal food from the archaeological record is tantamount to the silencing of Aboriginal food cultures. Now we have a new way of bringing it back into the story.”
To learn more, read the report here.
By Hannah Cross