Indigenous Australians relied on a native moth as a food source 2000 years ago, according to evidence archaeologists have claimed is a world-first.
The Bogong moth was considered by many Aboriginal clans to be a substantial source of nutrients due to its large numbers and high fat content.
But conclusive archaeological evidence had never been found until recently.
At a cave in the foothills of the Australian Alps in northeast Victoria, remains of Bogong moths were discovered on a stone tool thought to be 1600-2100 years old.
The small, portable grindstone would have been carried around by its owners during travels.
It is the first conclusive archaeological evidence of insect food remains on stone artefacts anywhere in the world, researchers say.
“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 GunaiKurnai elder Russell Mullett, who was involved in the research.
“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.
The world has become a different place, but for 2000 years this grindstone has been sitting idle with a story to tell.”
The stone at Cloggs Cave was uncovered during 2019 excavations, which led to the publication of a paper in journal Scientific Reports on Monday.
The cave is about 72m above sea level in the lands of the Krauatungalung clan of the GunaiKurnai people.
Researchers say the find indicates Bogong moths would have been harvested, prepared and cooked by up to 65 generations of Aboriginal families.
The moths were used for food during summer feasts, as documented in the 1800s and in current oral traditions.
They were cooked in a fire and ground into cakes or a paste which could then be smoked and preserved for weeks.
“A lack of archaeological studies of insect food remains has resulted in a downplay or omission of the use of insects from archaeological narratives and deep-time community histories,” coordinating archaeologist and Professor at the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Bruno David, said.
“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.”
The archaeological work was led by Monash University and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation.