• It is the first conclusive archaeological evidence of insect food remains on stone artefacts anywhere in the world. (Supplied: Ajay Narendra and Eric Warrant)Source: Supplied: Ajay Narendra and Eric Warrant
It is the first conclusive archaeological evidence of insect food remains on stone artefacts anywhere in the world.
Keira Jenkins

5 Feb 2021 - 1:55 PM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2021 - 1:55 PM

Microscopic remains of Bogong moths have been found by a team of researchers and Traditional Owners in the Cloggs Cave, in the southern foothills of the Australian Alps.

The ground and cooked remains were found on a grindstone, which was recently excavated from the cave, on GunaiKurnai Country in Victoria.

The remains are thought to be around 2000-years-old.

For GunaiKurnai Elder and manager of the GunaiKurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC), Russell Mullett this find represents a cultural history that has been severed.

From a cultural point of view it's a really significant find," he said.

"It provides concrete evidence of our people collecting Bogong moths and grinding them and eating them."

Mr Mullett said historical records and oral histories illustrate the tradition of GunaiKurnai people travelling to the mountains to collect Bogong moths seasonally, as the insects migrated from southern Queensland.

He said there is even evidence of Bogong moth being used during summer feasts.

"Once Europeans arrived that cultural experience that people were doing had been interrupted," Mr Mullet told NITV News.

"Some of those stories were passed on after people were moved onto mission stations. There is still stories - my grandfather talked about the Bogong moth and people moving up and down to the mountains.

"But it's also about other animals. When we talk about seasonal movement, it really is about animals, plants and knowledge about where a person or a clan can go and find food when they move on Country."

'Expression of culture'

Cloggs Cave was first excavated in 1971-9172. A new program of excavation was initiated in 2019-2020, this time led by GunaiKurnai people.

GLaWAC worked with Monash University on the latest excavation. 

It is the first conclusive archaeological evidence of insect food remains on stone artefacts anywhere in the world.

Archaeologist Bruno David, who works at the Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, said the grindstone was encased in soil, which preserved it and the remains on it.

This, he said, makes is a significant find, because it is so difficult to find archaeological evidence of insects as a food source.

"Food is an expression of culture, in this case the Bogong moth is an expression of GunaiKurnai culture," he said.

"It's not just an item of food - of course it's about how people did things but it's also about scheduling, it's about how people travel country throughout the year because Bogong Moths don't occur through the whole year.

"It's also about how people connect one place with another place as they move across Country."

Professor David said working with GunaiKurnai Elders has given him a different perspective on his archaeology practice.

As an archaeologist, I tend to think in terms of writing history but really I think a more powerful way to think about it is telling the story of Country," he said.

"It's one step in telling the story of Country. It's not just about history, it's about story."

'Roadmap for the future'

Mr Mullet said working with Professor David and Monash University has opened new doors for him and other GunaiKurnai Elders.

"We've got a 3D model of the cave that we can take the Elders through that can't actually get to the cave," he said.

"They can see what the old people were experiencing through that. 

"This artefact is telling the story of the Bogong Moth connection - that the caves connected with the alpine area.

"It informs of a past that a lot of Elders can't experience anymore."

Mr Mullett said this finding is not just significant as a window into the past, but also as something for future generations to inform their connection to Country.

"If collaboration and partnerships are based on mutual respect and understanding, communities have got an opportunity to learn together and to gain more knowledge about our old people," he said.

"The knowledge of the past provides a roadmap for the future."

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