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3 June 2007
Ancient Tasmanians had wombats on their menus

During the last ice age, winter temperatures outside rock shelters in south-western Tasmania (Australia) plummeted to 15 degrees below zero. Summers were cool and short. The terrain was rugged. But new research shows these Aboriginal people were great survivors, getting their strength from the meat and bone marrow of wallabies, possibly with an occasional wombat brain. A La Trobe University archaeologist, Jillian Garvey, sorted more than 250,000 animal bone fragments from Kutikina Cave on the Franklin River, where the hunters lived between 15,000 and 20,000 years ago, to build a picture of their prehistoric lifestyle. It showed they were well adapted to the harsh conditions, she said.
     The discovery 30 years ago of Kutikina Cave, one of the richest archaeological sites in Australia, was an important factor in the 1983 High Court decision to ban work on the Gordon-below-Franklin dam, which would have flooded it. Other shelters were later found nearby revealing the area was first inhabited at least 35,000 years ago. It took Dr Garvey more than eight months to sort through 40 kilograms of bone fragments, which had been excavated from Kutikina Cave in 1981.
     Bennett's Wallaby made up more than 90 per cent of the remains of the hunters' prey, with wombats, at 6 per cent, the next most common. Most wallaby bones were from the hind legs, suggesting the hunters butchered their prey elsewhere and brought back the meatiest pieces. Most big wallaby bones were also split, and had cut marks from stone tools. "This suggests that people were also targeting the bone marrow," said Dr Garvey, who outlined her findings in Australasian Science.
     The hunters liked the front and back legs of wombats, but there was a surprisingly large amount of skull present. One possibility was that "humans favoured the large wombat skulls to extract the nutritious brain", she said. Pointy implements made from wallaby bone were also found, which could have been used as needles. "Even though there is no evidence of clothing, in all likelihood they would have used fur from animals to keep warm."

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald (2 June 2007)

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