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14 January 2017
Ancient eel traps in Australia

Traps built around a lake 6,000 years ago by the Gunditjmara people are among the earliest surviving examples of aquaculture anywhere. The traps are a series of canals and graded ponds running for some 35 kilometres around Lake Condah, 350 kilometres west of Melbourne, in southwest Victoria. Gunditjmara people manipulated water levels to encourage eels to swim into holding ponds, placing funnel-shaped baskets at spillways between ponds so that smaller eels could slip through and larger eels be harvested.
     The traps and other abundant wildlife provided by the lake allowed the Gunditjmara people to remain in one place, rather than following the nomadic lifestyle commonly associated with traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
     The site received national heritage status in 2004. The Gunditjmara were awarded native title over the area in 2007, and plugged the drain in the lake, allowing the fish traps to fill again. Work is in progress to improve the area for visitors, with proposed construction of interpretive signage, improved access and a traditional eel aquaculture interpretation centre. The traditional owners have requested that the features receive world heritage status, and are waiting to learn whether the Australian government has accepted their proposal.
     Monash University professor of Indigenous archeology, Ian McNiven, said that carbon dating of charcoal found during an excavation of one of the fish traps found it was 6,600 years old: "Muldoon trap complex is currently the oldest known stone-walled fish trap in the world and amongst the world's oldest known fish traps. It is also the oldest continuously used fish trap in the world. Indeed, the trap was still being used by Gunditjmara people at the Lake Condah Mission in the late 19th century."
     McNiven says the extensive network of traps were the "largest example of ancient freshwater fishing structures created by hunter-gatherers in the world" and were also important evidence in destroying the myth that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people did not farm or improve the land, which was part of the argument made by colonisers who claimed the land for themselves.

Edited from The Guardian (9 January 2017)

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