Canberra Skeptics Lecture: Palaeodiets in the Pleistocene: evidence from the palaeoecology and archaeobotany of Australasia

Speaker: Dr Mat Prebble

Date: Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Time: 6:00-7:30pm

Location: Lecture Theatre, CSIRO Discovery Centre, North-Science Road, Acton, ACT 2601

Free Admission

How much is the recent interest in palaeodiets the result of an understanding of what our distant ancestors consumed? Focusing on the Australasian region, Dr Mat Prebble (ANU) will examine fossil records from the region in order to outline what foods were available to humans in the Pleistocene. Were grains, legumes, dairy products, salt, refined sugar and processed oils excluded from the diet? The central question revolves around evidence for the consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates sourced from grains, the modern world’s staple food. In the Australasian region, tubers (e.g. yams, taro etc.), palm trunks (sago), fern trunks and roots formed the most widely available (non-cultivated or wild) carbohydrate sources. Grass grains and legumes were available but not necessarily in the quantities which would sustain sedentary societies.  In some parts of Melanesia, fern products are often looked on with disdain  as ‘poisonous’ or as ‘famine foods’, in yet palm and fern starch were plentiful, limited in toxicity and easily processed from areas where little other starchy foods or meat were available. In this lecture, Dr Prebble will argue that contrary to palaeodiet advocates, carbohydrates were a major part of the Pleistocene palaeodiet in this region.

Mat is a palaeoecologist and research fellow based in the Department of Archaeology & Natural History, School of Culture History & Languages, College of Asia & Pacific (CAP), The Australian National University. He teaches environmental archaeology and a joint course with Prof. Colin Groves on the domestication of plants and animals. He runs an annual archaeological field school for Masters students in Melanesia (Vanuatu) with Dr Stuart Bedford. He has published widely in the field and currently leads an Australian and Papua New Guinea Government funded project with Dr Matthew Leavesley exploring the archaeology of the Kokoda region crossing the Owen Stanley Range. This project focuses on understanding the role of tree-crops in human subsistence in the region.

Dinner will follow the lecture (venue tbc). To RSVP for the dinner please email

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