Diggings 7 February, 2021

Pictured is the anyakngarra fruit, which has a fleshy section (now dried and fibrous) a hard nutshell and multiple white seeds (or nuts) inside. Author provided to The Conversation.

Burnt ancient nutshells reveal the story of climate change at Kakadu — now drier than ever before

Archaeological research provides a long-term perspective on how humans survived various environmental conditions over tens of thousands of years.

In a paper published today in Nature Ecology and Evolution, we’ve tracked rainfall in northern Australia’s Kakadu region over the past 65,000 years. We wanted to know how major changes in rainfall may have affected the region’s Aboriginal communities through time.

Our findings suggest the Kakadu region wasn’t as prone to dry spells as surrounding areas — and it likely functioned as a place of refuge for early Australians as they struggled through harsh and arid conditions.

This is both exhilarating and devastating – exhilarating as Madjedbebe continues to provide evidence of that at least 65,000 years of the First Peoples’ habitation of Australia, and devastating for its implications for the continuing impact of climate change.


This Chinese restaurant will tell our Indigenous and Asian history through food

Douglas wanted to explore this rich history between Indigenous and Asian communities, which predates British settlement. Contact between Chinese and First Nations populations took place before the First Fleet arrived, and Yolngu elders even crafted their own chopsticks out of branches to eat fish. 

“If you’re going to retell the history of Australia, we must layer it in the honest way,” Douglas says. “I never thought about doing it or expressing it through food.”

This to me is a cautionary tale about making history without solid evidence. While there is no doubt that the Yolŋu traded with Makassan trepang merchants and that  some Yolŋu words are clearly derived from Makassan speakers, this article’s assertion of Chinese contact with the Yolŋu references a story by Chinese Australian Benjamin Law where Law writes of ‘watching a Yolngu elder use branches like chopsticks to eat fish’ which in no way is any evidence of pre-white colonial contact of Yolŋu and Chinese. Law’s article in turn cites a 2014 story of a group of ‘heritage enthusiasts who call themselves the Past Masters’  finding a Qing dynasty coin on Elcho Island, a coin that the enthusiasts did not have examined, and which themselves say could have been brought into Australian by Makassan traders.  For me this chain of evidence is slim.


The Law article http://bit.ly/3ad0rB5

 The article on the Qing coin http://ab.co/3r0Sbej

 It gets better with age: a brie(f) history of cheese in Australia

Henry Harding arrived in Bodalla on the south coast of New South Wales from England in 1853. The son of the “father of Cheddar cheese”, Joseph Harding, Henry shared his father’s dictum that: “cheese is not made in the field, nor in the byre [cowshed], nor even in the cow, it is made in the dairy”. This began a long era of commercialisation and industrialisation in which consistency, ease of storage and distribution and longevity were foremost considerations. The blue and yellow boxes of Kraft processed cheddar which travelled so well became a fixture of our cheese landscape.

Cheese in Sri Lanka when I was a kid usually meant Edam with its waxy red skin, usually eaten on special occasions like Christmas. Eating Kraft cheddar whenever I liked – and I did like, in jaffles with bacon especially – was one of the wonders of my new home in Australia.


RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) opens RECLAMATION: Recipes, Remedies, and Rituals, a new participatory exhibition featuring nine interdisciplinary artists. Conceived as a virtual experience that recontextualizes the traditional role of women in providing sustenance and healing, RECLAMATION also features content submitted by the public, interwoven with the artists’ work.

RECLAMATION is an evolving exhibition and ingredient archive that examines food as a creative medium for visual art and a connective tool for exploring intergenerational and intercultural experiences.

The exhibition centers around a kitchen table, the central domestic object for gatherings of family and friends. Nine artists will activate their own kitchen tables, sharing photographs, videos and stories about how they use this domestic object. These intimate glimpses into the artists’ homes simultaneously reveal a work of art and the process by which it is made.

Hours of pleasure.

Reconstructing the Menu of a Pub in Ancient Pompeii

In consideration of some of this evidence, if we were to hypothesize that what we’ve read in the Latin literary record about “boiled meat,” “broth and chunks of meat,” and the “reek and fume” of stew houses refers to a popina, then we can also speculate that the bone and shell matter found in the dolium in the newly unearthed popina in Regio V was destined for broth. Does all of this evidence suggest that meat boiled in broth at the corner popina is the Roman version of pub grub? I believe it does, and this now brings us much closer to proposing a first-century Roman meal that could allow us to explore this space using another investigative tool: our taste buds … In his cookbook De Re Coquinaria, the first-century gourmand Marcus Gavius Apicius prepares duck or crane in broth in the following manner. It may seem a bit upmarket for a corner popina, but it is simple by Apician standards and features some of the commonly used ingredients and flavor enhancers of the time.

Yes, a tad complicated for the average kitchen let alone the counter lunch at my local, but fascinating insights continue to emerge from Pompeii that urge me to go back there post COVID


Jacob van Huldsonck oranges

How Orange (the Fruit) Inspired Orange (the Color)

Before orange (the fruit, that is) stormed Europe, yellow-red was called simply that: yellow-red, or even just red. While both red and yellow are terms derived from Proto-Indo-European words, the roots of the word “orange” come from the Sanskrit term for the orange tree: nāraṅga. Traders traveled with the nāraṅga across the Middle East, and it became the Arabic naaranj. When Islamic rule spread to southern Italy and Spain in the Middle Ages, the orange tree made it to Europe.

But why is it still impossible to find a word, or coin a reasonable word that rhymes with ‘orange’?


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