Were ancient humans VEGETARIANS? 65,000-year-old archaeology site in Australia shows aboriginal groups subsisted on a diet of fruits, nuts, palm stems, and roasted roots and tubers

  • A team from the University of Queensland found ancient charcoal remains
  • The charcoal contain trace elements of food cooked by locals 65,000 years ago
  • It shows ancient humans subsisted on a largely plant-based diet

Researchers investigating one of Australia’s oldest aboriginal sites have discovered new evidence that many ancient humans subsisted on a mainly vegetarian diet.

The team, led by University of Queensland archaeobotanist Anna Florin, worked with a group of First Australians from the region to investigate Madjedbebe, one of the earliest known human settlements in the country dating back 65,000 years.

The team found a collection of small charcoal samples, which contained traces of the different foods the site’s earliest residents cooked and ate.

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Researchers in northern Australia found 65,000-year-old charcoal samples that contained traces of a local diet, suggesting the earliest Australians subsisted on a diet that was mostly vegetarian

The samples were created by chance, Florin told Newsweek, as small pieces of food spilled over during cooking.

As the bits of food mixed with the burning embers below, they turned into charcoal, which helped preserved chemical traces that point to the original ingredients.

The team used high-powered microscopes to identify the different chemical traces and worked with co-authors and local Mirarr elders May Mango and Djaykuk Djandjomerr to match the traces with different plants commonly found in the area.

In all, the samples pointed to 10 different foods, including fruit seeds, nut shells, palm stem fragments, yam fibers and root peels.

They also found traces of a small hard-shelled fruit called pandanus, which has edible nuts inside that are rich in protein and higher in fat than even coconut flesh.

These highly prized nutrient sources were labor intensive to process, involving hours of hammering with stone mortar and pestle to break out of their shells.

The team of researchers from The University of Queensland worked with co-authors and local Mirarr elders May Mango and Djaykuk Djandjomerr to identify the 10 different types of foods contained in the preserved charcoal samples

Foraging a local variety of plums was a common way to get calories 

Another prized food source was the pandanus, a small nut with high amounts of protein and fat that was contained inside a bulk and hard shell and grows from a local variety of palm tree, requiring hours of work at a mortar and pestle to access

‘It’s amazing because people put a lot of work into this and the types of plant foods they ate,’ Florin said in an interview with the university’s website.

‘And we can see that not just in these pieces of charcoal but also in the stone tool technology that comes with it.

‘We have grinding stones and we think people were grinding seeds and processing a whole heap of different plants and putting a lot of work into that and that was how they were able to adapt to these new environments.’


Experts studying ancient artefacts in Australia say we must push back the date from which humans arrived by almost 20,000 years, to 65,000 years ago.

The discovery means that they would have lived alongside Australia’s unique megafauna for tens of thousands of years.

An international team of researchers examined artifacts found at Madjedbebe, a rock shelter in Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory of Australia, which was home to early aboriginals when they arrived in Australia.

Over 10,000 stone tools, ochre ‘crayons’, plant remains and bones have been unearthed at the site since 1973.

Their analysis found that humans arrived in Australia far earlier than had been thought. 


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