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Modern emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) butchery, economic utility and analogues for the Australian archaeological record


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Australia's largest flightless bird, the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), has been an important prey animal for Indigenous people for millennia, especially in arid/semi-arid areas where, along with large kangaroos, they can provide high economic returns from single kills. Understanding modern prey selection, butchering patterns and the relative nutritional value of the different body portions in these animals has important implications for interpreting patterns of species and body part representation in the archaeological record. A butchery study, economic utility assessment, and meat and marrow fatty acid analysis of the Australian emu has established the relative economic importance of different body parts. The results show that the femur/pelvic region yielded the greatest amount of meat, and that the quantity and quality of fats associated with these units makes bone fracturing for marrow extraction superfluous. The results provide new insights into the relative importance of emu in Australian Aboriginal diets, past and present, and establish useful comparative data for studies of the now extinct giant flightless bird Genyornis newtoni.
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Modern emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae)
butchery, economic utility and analogues for
the Australian archaeological record
Jillian Garvey, Brett Cochrane, Judith Field and Chris Boney
Australia’s largest flightless bird, the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae), has been an important
prey animal for Indigenous people for millennia, especially in arid/semi-arid areas where, along
with large kangaroos, they can provide high economic returns from single kills. Understanding
modern prey selection, butchering patterns and the relative nutritional value of the different body
portions in these animals has important implications for interpreting patterns of species and body
part representation in the archaeological record. A butchery study, economic utility assessment,
and meat and marrow fatty acid analysis of the Australian emu has established the relative
economic importance of different body parts. The results show that the femur/pelvic region
yielded the greatest amount of meat, and that the quantity and quality of fats associated with
these units makes bone fracturing for marrow extraction superfluous. The results provide new
insights into the relative importance of emu in Australian Aboriginal diets, past and present, and
establish useful comparative data for studies of the now extinct giant flightless bird Genyornis
Keywords: Australia, Late Pleistocene, archaeology, Dromaius novaehollandiae, economic utility, fatty acid analysis, Genyornis newtoni
Modern humans arrived in Sahul (Pleistocene
Australia-New Guinea) sometime between 40 ka and
c. 60 ka, arguably at a time of megafauna decline and
deteriorating climatic conditions (O’Connell and Allen
2004; Field et al. 2008; Davidson 2010; Summerhayes
et al. 2010; Wurster et al. 2010). The timing and
coincidence of these events is the subject of intense
debate (Wroe and Field 2006; Field et al. 2008; 2011).
While a broad picture is emerging of when and where
modern humans were present on the landscape, we still
have little detail on the subsistence practices of the first
Australians. Of particular interest is the potential
interaction of humans with megafauna as well as the
utilisation of some of our modern large target prey,
such as the kangaroo and emu (e.g. O’Connell and
Marshall 1989; O’Connell 2000; Johnson 2005; Wroe
and Field 2006; Field et al. 2008; 2010).
The first human arrivals occupied most environ-
ments across the continent within a relatively short
period of time, adapting to a new vegetation and
faunal suite not seen in South-East Asia (Denham
et al. 2009). Apart from the rich south-west Tasmania
sites (e.g. Allen 1996; Cosgrove and Allen 2001;
Garvey 2006), there are few continental sites with
well-preserved faunal remains. Current datasets indi-
cate that, since the arrival of the first humans in Sahul,
there has been negligible variability in available target
prey; with the exception of some now extinct mega-
faunal species (Sutton et al. 2009; Field and Dodson
1999). Investigations into prey selection, butchering
and use of many of these species are hampered by the
scarcity of ethnographic observations on the economic
importance of different prey species. Most studies
looking at aspects of economic utility have targeted the
extant kangaroo to evaluate carcass composition for
the modern domestic meat trade (Garvey 2010). Only
two studies are known from Australia that have
Jillian Garvey (corresponding author), Archaeology Program, La Trobe
University, Victoria 3086, Australia; e-mail:; Brett
Cochrane, 12 Waratah St, Brewarrina, NSW 2839, Australia; Judith Field,
School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, The University of
New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia; Chris Boney, PO Box 79
Brewarrina, NSW 2839, Australia.
ßAssociation for Environmental Archaeology 2011
Published by Maney
DOI 10.1179/174963111X13110803260840 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 297
examined the economic importance of target prey
which occur in archaeological assemblages. O’Connell
and Marshall (1989) studied the Red kangaroo
(Macropus rufus Desmarest) in order to construct
utility indices as a general guide for macropods. The
abundance of another, much smaller, macropod, the
Bennett’s wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus Desmarest)
in the rich south-west Tasmanian archaeological sites
(Allen 1996; Pike-Tay et al. 2008), has led researchers
to extend the work of O’Connell and Marshall (1989)
to investigate the economic utility of this species
(Garvey 2010). These studies have enabled a greater
understanding of the patterns of use and relative
abundance of macropods across time and space
providing important interpretive frameworks for
Australian zooarchaeological studies. What has been
missing from the dataset is the relevant information on
Australia’s largest extant bird — the emu Dromaius
novaehollandiae Latham — which is known to have
been an important prey animal for Australian
Aborigines in the recent past.
An understanding of the economic utility of the emu
may also have important interpretive implications for
the extinct Pleistocene bird, Genyornis newtoni Stirling
and Zietz (Rich 1979). G. newtoni appears to be one of
the megafaunal species that overlapped with human
occupation of the Australian continent. Fossil remains
of G. newtoni have been recovered from Cuddie
Springs and Lancefield Swamp in south-eastern
Australia (Field et al. 2008). While the relative
economic importance of these species is unknown,
we propose that the skeletal similarities between the
emu and G. newtoni suggest that approaches to
butchering would be paralleled. An economic utility
study of the emu would thus serve two purposes:
1) provide the first baseline data on the processing
methods and nutritional value of emu; and
2) establish a reference point for evaluating archae-
ological assemblages that include both D. novae-
hollandiae and G. newtoni skeletal remains.
Genyornis newtoni and Dromaius
The study presented here evolved following investiga-
tions at the late Pleistocene archaeological site of
Cuddie Springs in western New South Wales
(Dodson et al. 1993; Field and Dodson 1999; Field
et al. 2008; Fillios et al. 2010). Among other identified
extant and extinct species, the remains of the extinct,
large flightless bird G. newtoni were recovered
from the same horizons (Stratigraphic Unit 6) as
flaked stone artefacts, implying contemporaneity and
possible interaction with humans (Field and Boles
1998; Fillios et al. 2010). Emu (D. novaehollandiae)
are also known from the archaeological horizons.
Most skeletal elements of G. newtoni were present
and complete in the excavated squares from Strati-
graphic Unit 6B (Fig. 1). The leg elements were
generally found in close anatomical association and
have been reported as separated articulations (Wroe
et al. 2004: fig. 1). No cutmarks were identified on any
G. newtoni skeletal elements and the lack of weathering
and/or abrasion, the fine-grained enclosing sediments,
and the ephemeral water hole conditions indicated that
the faunal remains were in a primary depositional
setting (Field 2006; Field et al. 2008; Fillios et al. 2010).
The presence of flaked stone artefacts with usewear
consistent with butchering, throughout the unit, implies
a human role in the accumulation of the remains. Little
attention has been paid to the economic importance of
G. newtoni or the emu, inhibiting an accurate evaluation
Figure 1 G. newtoni limb bones partly excavated at the
Cuddie Springs site in south-eastern Australia.
All longbone leg elements are found within a
1 m square in fine-grained enclosing sediments
and were deposited during a positive lake phase
during the Late Pleistocene. Flaked stone tools
have also been recovered from these horizons
and some artefacts can be seen in section (in
Stratigraphic Unit 6A SU6A, overlying SU6B)
(photo J. Field)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
98 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
of their potential as prey or determining which portions
of the bird would be targeted for consumption. Further-
more, as the limb elements from Cuddie Springs did
not exhibit any physical damage that is traditionally
associated with butchering, it is important to evaluate
whether marrow extraction was ever likely, in either G.
newtoni or emu. Marrow extraction is an important
aspect of macropod exploitation (Garvey 2011) yet
there is little known concerning similar strategies in the
Study aims
The aim of this paper is to present:
1) modern emu butchery and cooking practices of
Indigenous Australians;
2) an economic utility (or anatomy) study of the
emu; and
3) a fatty acid analysis of the emu bone marrow,
muscle and stomach lining.
The implications of these results for analysing and
interpreting Australian zooarchaeological assem-
blages, including the extinct flightless bird Genyornis
newtoni, will be discussed in light of the findings. In
this paper, we have decided to only concentrate
on the development of the emu utility model and
the ethnographic study of butchery practices. The
archaeological application of this model will be
explored in a future publication.
The Australian Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
The Australian emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
(Fig. 2), belongs to the Order Struthioniformes, or
the ratites; a diverse group of large, flightless birds
with small wings and without a keeled sternum. Emu
are Gondwanan in origin and are restricted to the
southern hemisphere, with most species now extinct.
Extant species include: the African ostrich (Struthio
camelus Linnaeus); two species of South American
rhea (Rhea americana Linnaeus and R. pennata
d’Orbigny); five species of the New Zealand kiwi
(Apteryx haastii Potts, A. owenii Gould, A. rowi
Tennyson et al.,A. australis Shaw and Nodder and A.
mantelli Barrlett); and three species of cassowary
restricted to northern tropical Australia and New
Guinea (Casuarius casuarius Linnaeus, C. unappendi-
culatus Blyth and C. bennetti Gould). The largest and
most famous extinct rarities include Aepyornis max-
imus Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire or the elephant bird of
Madagascar which grew to approximately 450 kg
(990 lb) and stood to 3 m (9?8 ft) tall, and the 11
extinct species of Moa from New Zealand. The
largest was the Giant Moa (Dinornis giganteus Owen)
which grew to about 250 kg (550 lb) and reached
3?3 m (11 ft).
The emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, was one of
four Dromaius taxa common in Australia prior to
European settlement (c. 1788). The other three were
the Tasmanian emu, D. novaehollandiae diemenensis
Le Souef, the King Island emu D. ate Vieillot, and
the Kangaroo Island emu D.baudinianus Parker, all
of which were smaller than their mainland cousin.
Today, D. novaehollandiae is Australia’s largest
bird, inhabiting many environments including open
woodlands, scrublands, semi-arid and arid regions
across mainland Australia. It is particularly com-
mon in pastoral and cereal-growing areas. Emus are
highly nomadic, and move in response to local
climatic conditions and the availability of water.
The emu is omnivorous, feeding on insects, berries,
fruit and flowers. Breeding occurs between April
and October when the female lays 5–11 eggs. The
male then broods over the eggs and raises the young
until approximately 18 months of age (Pizzey and
Knight 2001).
The emu and kangaroo are currently Australia’s
largest native terrestrial animal prey and are still
hunted by Indigenous people (Roth 1901; Thomson
1939; Gould 1966; 1969a; 1969b; 1981; O’Dea 1991;
O’Connell 2000). Published ethnographic accounts of
Figure 2 The Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae
(photo J. Garvey)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 299
emu butchery differ to that observed for the kangaroo.
A notable difference is that macropod hindlimbs
and metatarsals are cracked open to access the
bone marrow (McArthur 1948, 121; O’Connell and
Marshall 1989), while emu longbones always seem to
be discarded intact.
Despite being regular modern prey, emu bones are
very rare in the archaeological record (e.g. Cosgrove
and Allen 2001; Garvey 2006; 2007; Fillios et al.
2010). Emu eggshell has been reported from a
number of Pleistocene and Holocene archaeological
sites and is commonly associated with hearths, e.g.
Tunnel Cave in Western Australia and Lake
Menindee in New South Wales (Dortch 1996;
Cupper and Duncan 2006). Skeletal elements are
known from only a handful of sites. Lancefield
Swamp in Victoria has yielded both G. newtoni and
emu remains, though they comprise ,1% of the
faunal assemblage (Gillespie et al. 1978) and the
relationship between the artefacts and the faunal
remains has never been successfully clarified. The
Cuddie Springs site also contains emu and G. newtoni,
which are associated with the archaeological record
(Field and Boles 1998; Fillios et al. 2010).
The Dromornithidae and Genyornis newtoni
The Dromornithidae or dromornithids were a family
of large flightless birds endemic to Australia.
Sometimes referred to as ‘thunder birds’, ‘demon
ducks’ and ‘mihirungs’, they evolved sometime
during the late Oligocene and disappeared in the late
Pleistocene (Rich 1979). Represented by five genera
and seven species, the dromornithids were a group of
birds with enormous robust bodies, powerful legs and
vestigial wings, with fused scapula and coracoids in
their shoulder girdles and no keel on their sternum
(Murray and Vickers-Rich 2004: 31). The largest
dromornithid, Dromornis stirtoni Owen (Stirton’s
Thunderbird), is represented in late Miocene levels
at Alcoota in the Northern Territory. It was probably
the world’s largest bird at approximately 3 m tall and
weighing 500 kg. Despite the superficial resemblance
of D. stirtoni to the ratites, Murray and Megirian
(1998) determined that they are phylogenetically
related to the Anseriformes: the geese, ducks and
screamers. In effect, the dromornithids including
Genyornis could be referred to as the giant geese of
Tertiary and Quaternary Australia.
Genyornis is the only Quaternary dromornithid
known and is represented by a single taxon G.
newtoni.G. newtoni was first described during the late
1890s from material found at Lake Callabonna in
South Australia (Stirling 1896; Stirling and Zietz
1896; 1890). Since then it has been recorded from
across southern and central mainland Australia. It is
represented by skeletal material, eggshell, gizzard
stones or gastroliths, possible footprints, and argu-
ably in rock art (Rich and Gill 1978; Rich 1979;
Williams 1981; Field and Boles 1998; Miller et al.
1999; Ouzman et al. 2002; Murray and Vickers-Rich
Little is known of the palaeoecology of G. newtoni
(Rich 1979). Because of their enormous size and very
robust legs, the dromornithids are considered to have
been relatively slow birds, unlike the modern emu and
ostrich, which are slender, flightless birds designed to
run at high speeds. While G. newtoni is considered to
have been heavily built, it has been difficult to estimate
its possible body mass (Murray and Vickers-Rich
2004, 207). Using models and comparisons with living
taxa, Murray and Vickers-Rich (2004, table 18)
established an estimated weight range of 250–350 kg
for G. newtoni, with a conservative mass of 275 kg.
Compared to the size of the emu (30–45 kg), G.
newtoni would have been a considerable target prey
animal for Australian Aborigines.
Economic utility
Economic utility (or economic anatomy) examines
the potential selection and transportation of a prey
animal’s specific body parts based upon the assess-
ment of its relative food value. Economic utility data
is important for constructing models of human
exploitation of animal carcasses in archaeological
assemblages, and provides important indicators of
potential site use (Binford 1978; Thomas and Mayer
1983; Jones and Metcalfe 1988; Metcalfe and Jones
1988; Grayson 1989; Lyman 1992; 1994, 223–34;
Lyman et al. 1992; Reitz and Wing 1999, 213–21).
Since its formulation by Binford (1978) and applica-
tion to caribou (Rangifer tarandus C. H. Smith) and
sheep (Ovis aries Linnaeus), economic utility indices
has been constructed for a variety of other mammals
(e.g. Blumenschine and Caro 1986; Outram and
Rowley-Conwy 1998; Lyman et al. 1992; Savelle
and Friesen 1996; Savelle et al. 1996; Savelle 1997;
Diab 1998). This includes two Australian macropods;
the Red kangaroo Macropus rufus (O’Connell and
Marshall 1989) and the Bennett’s wallaby Macropus
rufogriseus (Garvey 2010). Only two examples of the
economic utility of a bird have been reported in the
literature; the New Zealand kiwi (Apteryx sp.) (as a
proxy for the extinct Moa) (Kooyman 1984), and the
South American rhea (Rhea americana)(Giardi-
na 2006). Here we present the data for another
ratite — the extant Australian emu (Dromaius
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
100 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
novaehollandiae). We argue that the emu data may be
used (with caveats) as a modern analogue for the
economic utility of G. newtoni.
Fatty acid analysis
When meat is low in lipids (fat), then the bone
marrow, typically from the tibia or femur, is
consumed to obtain the essential missing nutrients.
Kangaroos in particular are renowned for being very
lean and, where concentrations of skeletal remains of
kangaroo are found in archaeological sites (e.g.
Garvey 2011), marrow-containing bones are nearly
always found broken. Several different methods
have been used to assess human preference for
specific animal body parts, and these have a direct
bearing on interpreting skeletal representation in
faunal assemblages (Binford 1978; Jones and
Metcalfe 1988; Morin 2007). The amount of lipids
(fats) in animal bone marrow, particularly in
artiodactyls, has received considerable attention
(Bear 1971; Fong 1981; Pond 1988; Cederlund
et al. 1989). Prolonged reliance on lean meat by
humans means a diet high in protein and con-
sequential physiological problems (Speth and
Spielmann 1983; Speth 1987; 1991; Outram 2002).
Fatty meat, bone marrow and carbohydrates contain
more than 50 essential fatty acids that are required
for cellular regulation and growth in humans (Speth
1989; 2010; Hockett and Haws 2003; 2005; Burger
et al. 2005). Importantly, lipids or fat are a
concentrated source of energy, suppling nine kcal
per gram compared to the four kcal per gram
produced by carbohydrates and protein (Speth
1989). Although people may not be consciously
aware of the energy provided by consuming bone
marrow and fatty meats, these products are extre-
mely palatable and provide longer periods of satiety
(Speth 1987; 1989; 1991; 2010; White 2001). Recent
nutritional studies of emu meat have been driven by
the increasing prominence of such products in the
domestic/international farming and game meat
market (Smetana 1993; Berge et al. 1997; Sales and
Horbanczuk 1998; Shao et al. 1999). The analysis
presented here extends these studies to:
1) establish the nutritional value of emu muscle,
marrow and stomach lining via fatty acid analysis;
2) investigate how the relative nutritional value of
each may be reflected in the frequency, distribu-
tion and modification of skeletal elements in the
Australian zooarchaeological record; and
3) determine the nutritional potential of the larger
extinct Genyornis newtoni.
Site setting and study context
The Australian semi-arid zone supports populations of
emus that increase significantly during wet periods with
subsequent declines in times of drought (Brown et al.
2006). Local Aborigines still hunt emu — with cars and
guns — using important knowledge concerning the
practices of butchering and consumption that have
been passed down through the generations. Brett
Cochrane and Chris Boney have paternal affiliation
with the Murawori tribe, and Chris Boney has
connections to the area around Cuddie Springs via
maternal connections to the Weilwan people. They have
routinely hunted, butchered and cooked ‘bush tucker’
(various native fauna) since they were children. It is
important that these practices and methods are
documented for future generations. Our study was
undertaken in the semi-arid south-east of the continent,
approximately 85 km south-east of Brewarrina on
Wirroona Station (near the Cuddie Springs site), New
South Wales (longitude: 146u52’E; latitude: 29u58’S).
The emu study was undertaken using two male emus
(Individuals A and B) that were provided by Brett
Cochrane in September 2009. The animals were part
of a large mob of emus (.30) that were resident on
Wirroona Station. The animals were butchered and/
or dissected in the Wirroona Station Woolshed, a
process that began within one hour of the kill.
Traditional butchering: Individual A
Individual A was immediately butchered by Cochrane
and Boney after acquisition and the process docu-
mented by Garvey. Two of the prized portions of the
emu are the stomach lining and the intestines.
Cochrane and Boney refer to the stomach as ‘bundal’;
its traditional name in this region. In this study, the
bundal was collected separately and processed by
removing the contents and the thick layer of associated
fat (Fig. 3A). The bundal is typically cut into small
pieces and fried in a pan. The intestine is called the
‘running guts’. It is often stuffed with vegetables and
breadcrumbs and made into sausages.
The upper hindlimb and pelvic region were plucked
free of feathers to expose the skin. In these particular
birds there was very little (yellow) fat visible beneath
the skin, indicating that the animal was relatively
lean. Cochrane and Boney both commented on the
lack of a visibly thick fat layer, indicating it was too
lean for their purposes and under normal hunting
circumstances would have been abandoned.
When the skin was broken, a layer of yellow fat
was exposed. Several steak-sized portions of meat
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2101
(approximately 300–400 gm) were cut from the hind
region of the bird. Each meat portion had a layer of
fat attached to it (Fig. 3B). These portions were
frozen, to be cooked later. The legs were dismem-
bered from the pelvis using a sharp knife. No contact
between the knife and the bones was observed during
this process. The foot was separated from the leg, and
both legs were strung up on poles so that they could
be easily de-fleshed (Fig. 3C). Using a sharp knife,
the muscle was removed from the femur as one large
piece. Again, no contact was observed between the
bone and the knife. Once the butchery had ceased, the
bones were inspected for cut marks, however none
were observed. It was decided that the muscle and fat
from both legs would be made into rissoles; some
vegetables were added to the meat and then processed
using a bench mounted manual kitchen mincer.
Economic utility dissection: Individual B
A controlled economic utility analysis of Individual B
followed the butchering of Individual A. Carcass
weight, body measurements, estimated age and collec-
tion details are presented in Table 1. The method used
to dissect the emu followed Garvey (2010).
The bird was first entirely plucked of feathers and
skinned prior to dissection and the body was divided
into six core units (Table 2):
1) cranial: skull and mandible;
2) axial: vertebrae and ribs minus the cranium;
3) pectoral girdle: sternum, clavicle, coracoid and
4) forelimb: humerus, radius, ulna, carpometacar-
pus and digits;
Table 1 Characteristics of the Australian emu, Dromaius
utility study
Characteristic Emu
Sex Male
Age Adult
Date of Death 21.09.09
Season of Death Spring
Collected Cuddie Springs, NSW
Elevation (m a.s.l.) 30 m a.s.l.
Weight (kg) 42 kg
Snout-to-vent (mm) 1500
Height (head-to foot) (mm) 1900
Figure 3 Butchering the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae Individual B, where: A) is the bundal or stomach lin-
ing; B) is the leg being removed from the pelvis with steaks and layers of fat on the bird’s rump visible; and C)
is Brett Cochrane defleshing the leg. In all three photos the yellow fat has been arrowed (photos J. Garvey)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
102 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
5) pelvic girdle: synsacrum- fusion of the pelvis and
six caudal vertebrae; and pygostyle- fusion of the
final few caudal vertebrae; and
6) hindlimb: femur, fibula, tibiotarsus, tarsometa-
tarsus and digits.
The six core units were then divided into a further 12
individual anatomical units with gross weight,flesh
weight and bone weight recorded for each (Table 3).
Where there were paired elements, only the left was
included in the analysis. The gross weight is the weight
of the whole anatomical unit and includes the flesh, fat
and bone from each element; flesh weight is the weight
of the flesh; and bone weight the weight of the bone
after it has been cleaned (after Garvey 2010). All
internal organs or viscera were removed and indivi-
dually weighed, with the digestive tract cleaned before
being weighed and measured (Table 4). The stomach
(or gizzards) of both the emus were checked for
gizzard stones (gastroliths). Gastroliths were only
found in the stomach of Individual B (Fig. 4A).
The emu Meat Utility Index (MUI) and Modified Meat Utility
Index (MMUI)
For consistency with other utility index calcula-
tions (Lyman et al. 1992; Savelle and Friesen 1996;
Savelle et al. 1996; Diab 1998; Outram and
Rowley-Conwy 1998; Garvey 2010), the feathers,
viscera and the diaphragm were excluded. The utility
index is the equivalent of the Meat Utility Index
(MUI) following Lyman et al. (1992), where the
weight of the flesh associated with each specific
anatomical unit is measured (Table 5 and Fig. 5A).
The emu MUI was then normalised on a scale of 1–
100 to calculate the %MUI (following Binford 1978;
Lyman et al. 1992) (Table 5). Where the anatomical
unit consisted of a paired element, only the left side
was included in calculating the MUI and %MUI.
The emu Modified Meat Utility Index (MMUI) was
developed (following Lyman et al. 1992, 539–40), to
control for the possibility of the inclusion of ‘riders’
during emu butchery (Binford 1978, 74–75) (Table 6
and Fig. 5B). The MMUI takes into consideration
the likelihood that riders or anatomical units of low
economic value (i.e. those with little meat) that are
associated with elements of high economic impor-
tance, may also be transported. When an anatomical
unit of low value was adjacent to a higher ranked
unit, the two units were averaged, and the average
value assigned to the lower ranked unit. If the lower
ranked unit was situated between two units of higher
ranks, then the values of the higher units were
averaged and this was assigned to the lower rank
unit. The MMUI were then normalised to a scale of
1–100 and referred to as %MMUI (Table 6).
Fatty acid analysis
Samples for fatty acid analysis (,10 g) were collected
from the stomach lining, the hindlimb muscle,
marrow from the proximal tibiotarsus, distal tibio-
tarsus and the metatarsal. Helical or spiral fracture
scars and percussion marks were present on bones
which were broken to extract marrow for assay. All
samples were refrigerated at 4uC until delivered to the
National Measurement Institute (NMI), Melbourne
for FAMES (Fatty Acid Methyl Esters) analyses.
Table 2 The gross weight (gm), flesh weight (gm) and
bone weight (gm) for the six core body parts for
the Australian emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae,
Individual B (NB only the left side of paired
elements are included)
Body Part
Gross Wt
Flesh Wt
Bone Wt
1 Cranial 214.323
.6 190.7
2 Axial 5150.0 1730.0 3420.0
3 Pectoral Girdle 86.08
4 Forelimb 85.610
5 Pelvic Girdle 4100.0 600.0 3500.0
6 Hindlimb 14,400.0 9820.0 4580.0
TOTAL 24,035.9 12,192.0 11,843.9
Table 3 The gross weight (gm), flesh weight (gm) and bone weight (gm) of the 12 anatomical units for the Australian
emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae, Individual B (NB only the left side of paired elements are included)
Anatomical Unit Gross Wt (gm) Flesh Wt (gm) Bone Wt (gm)
1 Skull & mandible 214.323
.6 190.7
2 Cervical vertebrate 1200.0 470.0 730.0
3 Thoracic vertebrate 1000.0 200.0 800.0
4 Lumbar vertebrate 900.0 180.0 720.0
5 Sternum 220.050
.0 170.0
6 Ribs 1830.0 830.0 1000.0
7 Pectoral Girdle 43.04
8 Wing 42.85
9 Pelvis & sacrum 4100.0 600.0 3500.0
10 Femur 6300.0 4800.0 1500.0
11 Tibiotarsus & Fibula 900.0 110.0 790.0
12 Tarsometatarsus & Digits 900.0 110.0 790.0
TOTAL 17,650.1 7,382.8 10,267.3
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2103
Two emus were evaluated in this analysis: Individual
A was butchered using traditional methods; while
Individual B underwent an economic utility dissection
and fatty acid analysis of its meat, marrow and stomach
lining to determine its nutritional content. The results
from Individual A have important implications for our
understanding and interpretation of identifying emu
butchery in the Australian archaeological record. It was
found that the emu stomach lining and intestines were
considered a delicacy, with the meat from around the
pelvis and femur the most sought after. Observations
and subsequent discussions of the butchery further
influenced our selection of samples submitted for fatty
acid analysis, with the inclusion of stomach lining as
well as the meat and marrow.
All raw data from the economic utility dissection of
Individual B is presented in Tables 1–4. Approximately
22 kg meat (53% of total weight) was recovered from a
42 kg emu, with bone constituting 13 kg (32% of total
weight). The Meat Utility Index (MUI) and %MUI
indicated that the femur yielded the most flesh of all the
emu elements, even when riders were taken into
consideration (Table 5). In combination, the femur
and pelvis are the greatest meat-bearing parts of the
animal (Table 6). The relationship between the emu
%MUI and %MMUI was tested using the Spearman
Rank Coefficient, and were found to be moderately
associated (R50?60, P,0?48, Fig. 6). These results
indicate that modification for riders is an important
consideration in the economic utility of the Australian
In placental ungulates and rodents, and the ma-
rsupial macropod, it has been established that the
amount of unsaturated fats increases distally from the
body core temperature or the heart (Dietz 1946; Meng
et al. 1969; West and Shaw 1975; Turner 1979; Pond
1988, 92; Madrigal and Capaldo 1999; Garvey 2011).
This means that marrow in the distal elements
(towards the hands and feet) will be softer and oilier
and hence more palatable, providing longer periods of
Table 4 The viscera weights (gm) for the Australian emu,
Dromaius novaehollandiae, Individual B
Viscera Gross Wt (gm)
1 Brain 10.6
2 Heart 297.3
3 Diaphragm 30.0
4 Lungs 208.2
5 Trachea 148.0
6 Spleen 38.0
7 Liver 735.2
8 Oesophagus 105.4
9 Stomach (cleaned) 350.0
10 Gizzard Stones 41.6
11 Intestines (cleaned) 1250.0
12 Kidneys 33.0
12 Pancreas 20.0
TOTAL 3267.3
Table 5 The Meat Utility Index (MUI) and the %MUI per
skeletal element for the Australian emu, Dromaius
novaehollandiae, Individual B
Anatomical Unit MUI (gm) %MUI
1 Skull & mandible 23.60
2 Cervical vertebrate 470.09
3 Thoracic vertebrate 200.04
4 Lumbar vertebrate 180.03
5 Sternum 50.01
6 Ribs 830.017
7 Pectoral Girdle 4.00
8 Forelimb 5.20
9 Pelvis & sacrum 600.012
10 Femur 4800.0 100.0
11 Tibiotarsus & Fibula 110.02
12 Tarsometatarsus & Digits 110.02
Figure 4 A) gizzard stones removed from the stomach of the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae Individual B
(*wood); B) Genyornis or emu gizzard stones from late Pleistocene north-west Victoria (photos J. Garvey)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
104 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
satiety than leaner foods. For these reasons, people
will predictably target these elements. To accurately
evaluate the nutritional value of the emu, samples of
marrow, muscle and stomach lining were submitted
for Fatty Acid Profile (FAMES) assays; 32 fatty acids
were subsequently identified (Table 7). Importantly,
the pattern of marrow content observed in macropods
and placental mammals was found to mirror that in
the emu (Fig. 7).
Modern hunting and butchery practices
In the semi-arid region of western NSW, the emu is
still taken on a regular basis for food by Indigenous
Australians. Modern technology means it is usually
hunted from a vehicle using a rifle. Both local farmers
and Indigenous people have commented that the
emu’s curiosity makes it easy prey. An object such as
a piece of cloth or a mirror can be waved from a
Table 6 The Modified Meat Utility Index (MMUI) and the %MMUI flesh weights for the Australian emu Dromaius
novaehollandiae Individual B
Anatomical Unit Flesh Wt (gm) Parts Averaged MMUI (gm) %MMUI
1 Skull & mandible 23.6 None 23.60
2 Cervical vertebrate 470.0 None 470.09
3 Thoracic vertebrate 200.0 Thoracic, cervical & lumbar 283.35
4 Lumbar vertebrate 180.0 Lumbar & thoracic 190 4.0
5 Sternum 50.0 Sternum & ribs 440.09
6 Ribs 830.0 None 830.017
7 Pectoral Girdle 4.0 Pectoral girdle, ribs & sternum 294.76
8 Forelimb 5.2 Forelimb & ribs 417.68
9 Pelvis & sacrum 600.0 Pelvis & femur 2700.056
10 Femur 4800.0 None 4800.0 100.0
11 Tibiotarsus & Fibula 110.0 Tibiotarsus & femur 2455.051
12 Tarsometatarsus & Digits 110.0 None 110.02
Figure 5 Outline of the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae skeleton with the frequency of the; A) Meat Utility
index (MUI) and B) the Modified Meat Utility Index (MMUI) (adapted from Minnear and Minnear 1984, fig. 4.1)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2105
stationary vehicle to get its attention, drawing in the
curious animal for a closer look. Such practices were
used by the Garawara people in the Northern
Territory (Pickering 1992). Other methods include
shooting an individual and causing injury so the bird
thrashes around, provoking other individuals to
move in for a closer look.
Emus, once caught and killed, may either be
cooked whole in a traditional ground oven, or
butchered or filleted for rissoles or steaks. The
cooking method is usually dictated by the resources
available. If cooking in a ground oven, a hole about a
metre in depth will be dug to accommodate the entire
bird. A fire will be started adjacent to the hole and
left to burn down until coals have formed. The bird is
then placed in the ground oven, with dirt and coals
placed on top for four to six hours or until cooked.
Due to inclement weather we were unable to cook the
birds in a ground-oven and instead butchered the
bird for rissoles and steak and collected the bundal
(stomach lining).
The documented butchering methods (of Cochrane
and Boney) were similar to those reported by
Pickering (1995). Bovid butchery strategies by the
Garawara people in the Gulf of Carpentaria meant
that large quantities of meat were obtained with
minimal disarticulation and/or damage to the carcass.
Notably, the absence of surface modifications to
bones of G. newtoni at Cuddie Springs (Field and
Boles 1998; Fillios et al. 2010), if scavenged or
butchered, may be explained by reference to the
behaviour of modern Aboriginal groups in the
processing of the emu for meat.
Whilst observing the Gunwinggu hunting buffalo
in Arnhem Land, Altman (1982) found that, in all
circumstances, it was butchered where killed. The
primary reason for this was the enormous size of the
buffalo. The highly prized portions, the liver,
stomach lining, heart and tongue, were usually
claimed by the elders. The buffalo fat was also an
important commodity. Once the fat and meat had
been distributed, it was cooked in individual family/
domestic group ground-ovens. However, when the
next largest sized prey, the kangaroo or emu, was
caught, it was first cooked whole in a ground-oven,
and then distributed (Altman 1982). These observa-
tions lend support to the notion that the very large
goose-like bird G. newtoni could have been butchered
where it was killed and the selected portions removed,
then cooked and/or transported.
Economic utility of the Australian emu
The economic utility study of the emu indicates that
approximately 53% of the total body weight of the bird
consists of muscle flesh, and that this was predomi-
nately found around the birds’ hind limb and pelvis
(Table 5, Fig. 5A). In total, 10?2 kg of meat was
removed from this region of the animal and accounted
for almost 25% of the total body weight. When scaled
up for the much larger G. newtoni, the equivalent
Figure 6 Comparison of the %MUI and the %MMUI for the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae, Individual B
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
106 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
hind-region portions account for approximately 60–
80 kg of meat from a 275 kg animal. Emu meat is
notoriously rich and fatty, and, despite being described
as lean by Cochrane and Boney, both birds analysed in
this study had a large amount of visible yellow fat
around and within the muscle bundles. It is anticipated
that G. newtoni would also have stored fat in a similar
way. However, as previously stated, G. newtoni had
very robust and powerful legs compared to the gracile
emu, so it is expected that G. newtoni would have
provided more meat in this region compared to the
emu. So, while the emu is a good basis for initial
comparison and development of an economic utility
model for extinct G. newtoni, these results could be
refined and supplemented by future work on the
economic anatomy of its closet living relatives the
Anseriformes (ducks, geese and screamers).
Emu fat is prized amongst Indigenous people:
Gould (1966) commented that the Ngatatjara sought
emu fat as a fixative for decorative pigments and was
rubbed onto wooden artefacts to keep them from
splitting and cracking in the dry desert heat; White
Table 7 Fatty acid composition of the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae Individual B stomach lining, muscle
and bone marrow shown in Fig. 7
Distal- marrow
Saturated Triglycerides in Extracted Fat
C4:0 Butyric % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C6:0 Caproic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C8:0 Caprylic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C10:0 Capric % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C12:0 Lauric % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C14:0 Mystric % ,0.10
C15:0 Pendadecanoic % 0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C16:0 Palmitic % 16.519
C17:0 Margaric % 0.30
C18:0 Stearic % 18.812
C20:0 Arachidic % 0.20
C22:0 Behenic % 0.40
C24:0 Lignoceric % 0.1,0.10
Mono-unsaturated Triglycerides in Extracted Fat
C14:1 Myristoleic % ,0.1,0.10
C16:1 Palmitoleic % 1.12
C17:1 Heptadecenoic % 0.90
C18:1 Oleic % 18.730
C20:1 Eicosenic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C22:1 Docosenoic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C24:1 Nervonic % 0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
Poly-unsaturated Triglycerides in Extracted Fat
C18:2wg Linoleic % 16.015
Total Fat (Folch) g/100 g 1.01
C18:3w6 gamma-Linolenic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C18:3w3 alpha-Linolenic % 3.97
C20:2w6 Eicosadienoic % 0.50
C20:3w6 Eicosatrienoic % 0.60
C20:3w3 Eicosatrienoic % 1.40
C20:4w6 Arachidonic % 11.65
C20:5w3 Eicosapentaenoic % 2.22
C22:2w6 Docosadienoic % ,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
Omega 3 Fatty Acids 13.611
Omega 6 Fatty Acids 29.121
C22:4w6 Docosatetraenoic % 0.4,0.1,0.1,0.1,0.1
C22:5w3 Docosapentaenoic % 5.01
C22:6w3 Docosahexaenoic % 1.00
P:M:S Ratio 1.2:0.6:1.01
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2107
(2001, 354, fig. 7) illustrated an ‘unwrapped bundle of
highly-valued golden emu fat’ that was distributed by
a Donydji hunter to his selected kin; while Brett
Cochrane commented that female elders in his family
like to rub emu fat on their faces and hands to protect
their skin from the drying effects of the semi-arid
climate. Today, ‘emu oil’ is commercially available
and is sold worldwide, having both medicinal and
cosmetic purposes (e.g. Yoganathan et al. 2003;
Whitehouse et al. 1988; Bennett et al. 2008;
Howarth et al. 2008). It is clear that emu fat, and
potentially fat from G. newtoni, served many pur-
poses other than dietary.
Besides fat, meat, bundal (stomach) and the
intestines, emus are a source of other desirable
commodities. Emu eggs are commonly collected by
Cochrane, Boney and their families. When the males
are on their nests, usually around May–June during
good seasons, one person will distract the adult bird
while another person will remove some of the eggs.
Not all the eggs are taken, to ensure some remain to
hatch. The eggs are extremely rich and are either
scrambled or made into omelettes. Some eggs are
‘blown’ (the egg white and yolk are removed when a
hole is drilled in either end) so they can be
decoratively carved. The decoration can take several
months to complete. In addition, emu feathers are
known from ethnographic studies to have been used
for ornamentation, woven into mats and belts, and as
shoes. Bone needles were also produced (Roth 1904;
Khan 2003). It is likely that the eggs, feathers and
possibly bone from G. newtoni could have been used
in a similar manner.
Australian zooarchaeological assemblages: a
model for emu (and G. newtoni) bones
The late Su Solomon suggested to us that Indigenous
Australians avoided emu bones due to the presence of
potentially dangerous spicules in the trabecular tissue
(Field and Boles 1998). During the dissection of
Individual B we found that spicules were clearly
present throughout the femur cavity. However,
spicules in the tibiotarsus only appear to occur at
the proximal and distal ends (Fig. 8A). The spicules
were not observed in the shaft, similar to that seen in
mammals such as the kangaroo (Fig. 8B). Whether a
similar situation occurred with respect to G. newtoni
may be difficult to establish. Verification of our
observations via CT scanning or X-ray of the emu leg
will be an important future study. Certainly, the bone
cavities of G. newtoni limb bones at Cuddie Springs
were mostly filled with clay and silt. As such,
determining if G. newtoni also had a similar
morphology is not possible here. G. newtoni speci-
mens from other sites may have preserved the very
fine spicules.
If humans did indeed avoid large bird bones that
contained spicules, despite their potential marrow
yield, then we would expect them to have only
targeted the hollow emu tibiotarsus and avoided the
femur. Kooyman (1984) found that Moa breakage
patterns identified from Owens Ferry in New Zealand
indicated that only the tibiotarsus was split to access
its marrow. Another New Zealand site, Shag River
Mouth (Kooyman 1998) yielded evidence that the
femur was occasionally broken in addition to well
defined systematic breakage of the tibiotarsus for
marrow procurement. Kooyman (1984) further sur-
mised that the overrepresentation of the pelvis,
tarsometatarsus and phalanges at Owens Ferry was
probably attributed to their being transported as
‘riders’ rather than for their marrow-bearing capa-
city. The presence of riders at Owens Ferry supports
the conclusions of the economic utility analysis
presented here where a moderate correlation was
found between the Meat Utility Index and the
Figure 7 Outline of the Australian emu Dromaius novae-
hollandiae skeleton with the percentage of unsa-
turated fatty acids in the marrow (dark circles),
muscle and stomach or bundal lining (lighter cir-
cles) (adapted from Minnear and Minnear 1994,
fig. 4.1)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
108 Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2
Modified Meat Utility Index. It supports our
contention that riders are an important consideration
when assessing emu body part representation in
archaeological assemblages.
While emu bone marrow is very high in unsatu-
rated fats, there is already enough fat on the body
(Fig. 3) to make accessing the bone marrow non-
essential. The reverse situation exists for the
Australian macropod. There is so little dissectible
fat available in kangaroos and wallabies that people
needed to supplement their diets by cracking open the
longbones to access the bone marrow (Garvey 2011).
Gastroliths or gizzard stones in the zooarchaeological
Due to the lack of grinding teeth, a variety of birds
ingest small stones and/or fragments of wood,
referred to as gastroliths or gizzard stones, into their
gastrointestinal tracts to aid with mechanical diges-
tion. Other animals that also use gastroliths include
crocodiles, alligators, seals, sea lions and dinosaurs.
Both of the emus used in this study had their
stomachs checked for gizzard stones. Interestingly,
only the emu used in the economic utility study
(Individual B) had any present, with 11 gastroliths
collected (Fig. 4A). Of these, two were found to be
pieces of wood that would have eventually been
digested in the bird’s stomach, while the remaining
nine were stone. Gizzard stones are important as they
can potentially be used to identify specific taxa in the
archaeological and palaeontological record (Fig. 4B).
Surprisingly, the emu gizzard stones were not
rounded from mechanical processing in the emu’s
stomach. The lack of rounding contrasts with
expectations based on the morphology of ratite
gastroliths identified elsewhere. Gastroliths have
commonly been described as being rounded, worn
and polished (Anderson et al. 1998). Recent experi-
ments by Wings and Sander (2007) suggested that
perhaps they are not as polished as previously
believed, suggesting that there is significant varia-
bility, conceivably depending on context and local
environmental conditions. The lack of gizzard stones
in Individual A further implies that emus may replace
their gizzard stones on a regular basis. Additional
investigation of emu gizzard stones, and the implica-
tions for G. newtoni, is required.
This paper presents the first modern butchery,
economic utility and fatty acid analysis of the
Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae. It has
important implications for understanding the eco-
nomic role of the emu in modern Indigenous society
and also in the Australian archaeological record. The
study of the emu provides tantalising new evidence
that may be extrapolated to the extinct giant goose of
Australia’s late Pleistocene G. newtoni. Following
from Pickering (1995), the large amounts of easily
accessible meat and fat provided by one G. newtoni
carcass combined with low human population
numbers at this time means that the likelihood of
physical damage to bones would be low. It necessarily
follows that detecting a human signature in the
scavenging or butchering of these birds may be
equally difficult.
Specific outcomes include:
1) The portions of greatest economic value in the
modern emu are the pelvis, hind region, stomach
lining and the intestines. Feathers, eggs and emu
Figure 8 Tibiotarsus of the Australian emu Dromaius novaehollandiae individual B, where A) spicules are only located at
the proximal and distal end of the bone (spicules are arrowed), and B) the shaft of the tibiotarsus does not con-
tain spicules with the marrow resembling that found in mammal longbones (photos J. Garvey)
Garvey et al. Modern Emu Butchery
Environmental Archaeology 2011 VOL 16 NO 2109
fat are also important commodities. Hence, it is
predicted that the leg bones of the emu and/or G.
newtoni are the most likely elements to be present
in archaeological consumption or habitation sites.
2) A 42 kg emu yields approximately 10?2kg of
meat from the pelvis and leg. Therefore, G.
newtoni is likely to have provided 60 to 80 kg of
meat from its hind region alone.
3) Large amounts of meat and fat can be obtained
from an emu with minimal effort; hence G.
newtoni bones are unlikely to have sustained
damage during defleshing.
4) As with the emu, G. newtoni is likely to have had
substantial amounts of fat associated with the
muscle. This means that it was not necessary to
supplement the already fatty meat with the bird’s
fatty marrow. Hence we predict that emu and G.
newtoni longbones are likely to be found complete
and not cracked open.
5) If people did access emu longbones for their large
marrow yield, then given the observed pattern of
spicule distribution we would expect to find only
the tibiotarsus bones and not the femora cracked
open in archaeological sites. Further investigation
is required to determine the distribution of
spicules in G. newtoni longbones.
We are very grateful to Margaret and Ted Johnstone
for their generous logistical support in the field and
their continuing friendship. We are indebted to the
Currey and Green families for help, advice and access
to their properties during this work. Grateful thanks
are also due to the Brewarrina Aboriginal
Community and the Walgett Shire Council and the
many volunteers who helped us. Brad Orcher
provided field assistance and made great rissoles
from the emu meat. The authors acknowledge the
facilities as well as scientific and technical assistance
from the staff in the Australian Microscopy and
Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF) and the
Australian Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis
at the University of Sydney under whose auspices this
work was undertaken. The project was funded by the
Australian Research Council (DP0557923) and
the University of Sydney. This paper is dedicated to
the late Su Solomon, who first brought to our
attention the lack of cracked emu longbones in the
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... There are many Indigenous and also colonial stories about emus being "cheeky", inquisitive, an explorer going from place to place, as sometimes being tame and friendly with people, snatching food, and cavorting with other animals (e.g. Chisholm 1917;Garde 2017;Garvey et al. 2011). ...
... It is not only consumed, but also has specific claims of ownership over them. While Indigenous Australians hunt, use and trade emu meat, oil and feathers, it was not owned in the same way or made into property, other than for immediate use or trade (Garvey et al. 2011;MacPherson 1933). Emu oil is an extract of the emu that has extended the emu from a more-than-human to a more-than-animal both materially and in abstract ways. ...
... Emu oil is an extract of the emu that has extended the emu from a more-than-human to a more-than-animal both materially and in abstract ways. The creation and extraction of the oil is material process involving butchery, and which was a common process contributing to Aboriginal diets (Garvey et al. 2011). But patents over emu oil make it an abstract extension of more-than-animal. ...
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The emu is endemic to Australia and is one of the world’s largest flightless birds. For Indigenous peoples, the emu is a highly significant and totemic species—a fact that is poorly recognised by many. Emu shows itself, and is positioned as: a national symbol in the Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms; a spirit and Dreaming‐creation belief involving the sky; a scientific animal; medicine and food; an oil; and as a component that has been isolated, privatised and monopolised through the patent system. It is important to recognise the significance of animals like the emu, and its many uses. Yet to date there is limited critical discussion of the appropriation and patenting of emu oil products which appear to be based on Indigenous knowledge, uses and innovations. This article uses more‐than‐human and more‐than‐animal thinking to decentre, problematise and Indigenise “ways of thinking” about the emu. We also seek to reframe the subjugation of “traditional knowledge” in scientific discourses and to reify Indigenous Australian innovations, and relationships with animals and Country.
... Anthropogenic marks described here as clefts or kerfs differ in morphology and orientation from traces resulting from natural processes (34). Clefts and kerfs are consistent with patterns of butchery in ratites through disarticulation, as evidenced by marks at interarticular epiphyses of long bones (35) and phalanges (37), associated with hyperextension of limb joints followed by chopping and cutting through connective tissues on their exposed fascia, leaving comparatively few anthropogenic marks on the surfaces of the diaphysis (38). ...
... The posteriorlateral bevel edge is defined at the anterior-medial end and undefined from the center to the posterior-lateral end. The morphology and orientation of the cleft and kerf are consistent with disarticulation at the intertarsal joint, including high-impact chopping actions associated with disarticulation of large animals (35,38). ...
... Impact marks were compared to the morphology and position of tool marks previously reported from late Holocene Madagascar (21,42), modern assessments of meat utility and butchery of emu, archaeological records of tool marks on rhea, and modern frameworks of archaeological exploitation analysis (35,38). ...
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Previous research suggests that people first arrived on Madagascar by ~2500 years before present (years B.P.). This hypothesis is consistent with butchery marks on extinct lemur bones from ~2400 years B.P. and perhaps with archaeological evidence of human presence from ~4000 years B.P. We report >10,500-year-old human-modified bones for the extinct elephant birds Aepyornis and Mullerornis , which show perimortem chop marks, cut marks, and depression fractures consistent with immobilization and dismemberment. Our evidence for anthropogenic perimortem modification of directly dated bones represents the earliest indication of humans in Madagascar, predating all other archaeological and genetic evidence by >6000 years and changing our understanding of the history of human colonization of Madagascar. This revision of Madagascar’s prehistory suggests prolonged human-faunal coexistence with limited biodiversity loss.
... Prehispanic iconography, historical references, and actual use of these birds by creoles people supports this idea (Álvarez and Heider 2019;Beerbohm 2004;Claraz 1988;Guinnard 2006;Salemme and Frontini 2011;Musters 1997). However, like other ratite species in the world, the archaeological record suggests a rare use of this animal during most of the Holocene (Garvey et al. 2011;Giardina 2010a, b;Janz et al. 2009;Nagaoka 2005;O'Connell 2000). The poor evidence of these birds in archaeological sites had been attributed to difficulties of the hunting this prey and problems of the conservation of bones due to taphonomic process (Belardi 1999;Cruz and Elkin 2003;Fernández 2000). ...
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Ethnographic studies and ethnohistoric literature from the south of South America showed strong interest in Rheas (Rhea americana and Rhea pennata) consumption. The Chronicles from numerous explorers of the nineteenth century mentioned different aspects of the exploitation of these birds by Native American people from South America, as well as by rural populations from the Pampa and Patagonia regions at the beginning of twentieth century. In this chapter we show the traditional techniques of hunting, butchering and consumption of these birds. The information belongs to direct observations and interviews to ranchers from rural areas of southern Mendoza, Argentina.
... Giardina's (this issue) research provides needed bird economic utility indices for the Rheidae (rhea family), and compares his rhea data with other flightless ratites, such as the emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and kiwi (Apterygidae) previously reported (Kooyman 1990;Garvey et al. 2011). In addition to determining the meat utility index (MUI) of Rhea pennata (Darwin's rhea), Giardina also provides the marrow index (MI), white grease index (WGI) and general utility (GUI) indices. ...
... Importantly, these qualities of EES may have been largely shared by those produced by the now extinct, Genyornis newtoni. Last of the giant, flightless mihirungs ('thunder birds') endemic to Australia, it is still heatedly debated whether people overlapped with and exploited Genyornis (e.g., Field et al., 2008;Garvey et al., 2011;Miller et al., 2016), though recent findings at Madjedbebe suggesting that people were on the continent by 65,000 years ago (Clarkson et al., 2017) seems to strengthen arguments for interaction. Indeed until recently, burnt eggshell found at a number of locations across was Australia was believed to be that of Genyornis, allowing researchers to argue that they provided evidence for the cooking of Genyornis eggs. ...
Ostrich eggshell (OES) disc beads are among the earliest types of personal adornment produced by Modern Human populations in African and Asia, and represent the first example of a raw material transformed into an entirely new shape-as opposed to simply perforating a whole marine shell-for decorative purposes. These same beads have continued to be made into present day as an important item in modern gift-exchange systems in sub-Saharan Africa, while OES has a similarly long history for being used as water (etc.) containers. Given the importance of OES to so many communities through time and space, questions regarding why a similar use of emu eggshell (EES) is completely absent from the Australian context is frequently voiced in archaeological forums. This paper will address that question through experimental replication of both OES and EES disc beads for direct comparison of their manufacture and use characteristics. It was found that while it is possible to successfully create disc beads in EES, there are several factors which make this raw material unsuitable for use in either social or utilitarian technologies.
... However, more recently shellfish are considered to have been a protein staple, if at least on a seasonal basis (Erlandson, 1988), with human foraging linked to periodic oversupply of specific species resulting in focused or intensive economic strategies (Bourke, 2005; Morrison, 2013 ). While in Australia terrestrial fauna such as macropods (kangaroos and wallabies), emus and wombats are excellent sources of protein and other dietary sources (Garvey, 2010Garvey, , 2011 Garvey et al., 2011, in press; Cosgrove and Garvey, in press), the energy expenditure required to hunt them, as well as Aboriginal social organisation which dictated the division of animal body parts with the most nutritional body parts often going to the male hunters and/or Elders (Altman, 1987; O'Connell and Marshall, 1989), could have meant that shellfish were a very important source of protein for women and children. While there have been several studies of the nutritional quality of Australian marine shellfish and other aquatic resources (Pearson, 1977Pearson, , 1978; O'Dea and Sinclair, 1982; Gibson, 1983; Evans et al., 1986; Sinclair et al., 1987; Dunstan et al., 1988; Belling et al., 1997; Miller et al., 1997; Soltan and Gibson, 2008), there has been little investigation of freshwater molluscs. ...
The Central Murray River Valley in northwest Victoria contains a rich and diverse archaeological history spanning the last 20,000 years, which has the potential to help inform on past human behaviour and subsistence strategies. In particular, freshwater shell middens are important as they can provide information about the local aquatic economy, and the role of these molluscs in the diet of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers. Many of the middens in the region consist of thin temporal horizons while being laterally expansive in size (some measuring up to 400 m in length). These middens are dominated by two aquatic molluscs: the river mussel Alathyria jacksoni and the river snail Notopala sublineata. However whilst it is generally accepted that Alathyria jacksoni was a common human prey species, it is thought that the smaller gastropod Notopala sublineata was collected accidentally as by-catch and was not economically important. To investigate, two spatially and temporally distinct middens from different land-systems spanning the late Pleistocene to the late Holocene were studied to look at the variety and size of mollusc species. To supplement the archaeological record, the potential economic and nutritional quality of the bivalve Alathyria jacksoni was investigated. The nutritional results indicate that while Alathyria are low in fat (but are good sources of omega 3- and 6-fatty acids), they are high in protein and calorific energy (kj), and are excellent sources of magnesium (Mg), Iron (Fe), Sodium (Na) and Zinc (Zn). These results coupled with the modern behavioural ecology of these freshwater molluscs, as well as ethnographic and modern cooking experiments, help identify human foraging and subsistence strategies in this region. Results indicate that despite earlier ideas, the river snail Notopala sublineata was an important economic aquatic resource during the late Pleistocene and Holocene.
There is extensive evidence for extraction of grease and fat from bones of ungulates at Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene sites in the Southern Levant. Excavations at Shubayqa 6 identified an area where extensive processing of carcasses took place at the transition between the Late Natufian to Early Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (PPNA). Large quantities of fire-cracked basalt, highly fragmented faunal remains and burnt bones indicate that grease and fat were extracted on a large scale. Spatial analysis demonstrates that bird remains were discarded in the same location where this fat rendering took place. Waterfowl dominate the assemblage and would have been present mainly in the winter. Body-part representation of the bird remains suggests that this abundance of avifauna resulted in people selectively processing the carcasses of the waterfowl they hunted. Gazelles would have been in peak condition at this time of year with higher concentrations of fat stored in their bodies. This seasonal glut of resources contrasts with the summer, especially late summer, when most of the commonly hunted bird species were absent and the gazelle in relatively poor condition. People, aware of seasonal cycles in resource abundance, may have preserved foods when available. Storing fat conserves resources for leaner times. Compared to the Natufian site of Shubayqa 1, fewer young gazelle in the faunal remains at Shubayqa 6 is an indication that hunting either targeted mature animals or was more intense in the winter when fewer young animals are present. Carcasses from juvenile animals are comprised of less fat and the association of the adult gazelle carcasses with the bird remains suggests that the two resources were processed alongside one another. Preservation of foodstuffs for leaner months of the year may have been one potential outcome of this activity.
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The economic anatomy for Rheidae (Class: Birds) which includes the calculation of the Modified General Utility Index (MGUI) and its component indexes: Meat Utility Index (MUI), Marrow Index (MI), White Grease Index (WGI), and General Utility Index (GUI) are presented in this paper. In addition, I describe the methodology implemented to generate each index and discuss these results, applying them to an archeofaunal setting. The results show net values of meat utility, which are associated to the anatomical portions of the appendicular skeleton; a high grease index, which is associated to the axial portions (mainly pelvis, sacrum, and sternum); and a high marrow index in the tibiotarsus and tarsometatarsus. The correlation that exists between the Economic Utility Index and the Structural Bone Density Index shows an equifinality problem. Finally, I compare the Utility Index for other ratites built with the purpose of giving an analogy for all the species that constitute this group of birds.
Since its inception, paleoanthropology has been closely wedded to the idea that big-game hunting by our hominin ancestors arose, first and foremost, as a means for acquiring energy and vital nutrients. This assumption has rarely been questioned, and seems intuitively obvious—meat is a nutrient-rich food with the ideal array of amino acids, and big animals provide meat in large, convenient packages. Through new research, the author of this volume provides a strong argument that the primary goals of big-game hunting were actually social and political—increasing hunter’s prestige and standing—and that the nutritional component was just an added bonus. Through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary research approach, the author examines the historical and current perceptions of protein as an important nutrient source, the biological impact of a high-protein diet and the evidence of this in the archaeological record, and provides a compelling reexamination of this long-held conclusion. This volume will be of interest to researchers in Archaeology, Evolutionary Biology, and Paleoanthropology, particularly those studying diet and nutrition.
Aboriginal people have exploited European and Asian cattle as a food resource since the introduction of these animals to Australia. Butchering techniques are usually simple and efficient and involve minimum disarticulation of the carcass or artefactual damage to bones. Subsequent residues often show little or no direct evidence of being a product of human activity. Similar 'optimum butchering' strategies may well have applied to the butchering of extinct Australian megafauna, particularly the Diprotodontidae , and would provide one explanation for the inconclusive evidence for human exploitation of megafauna. This paper comments on the Aboriginal hunting and butchering of cattle for non-commercial use. The descriptions provided are derived, firstly, from field observations over several years of Aboriginal hunting and the butchering of two buffalo and nine European cattle from several spatially separate regions of northern Australia; secondly, from interviews with Aboriginal informants; and, thirdly, from discussions with other field researchers. This description relies on qualitative data. Observations of hunting and butchering events were usually fortuitous, occurring in the course of other work, and collection of more detailed data suitable for quantitative analysis was simply not possible. Therefore, rather than describe the specifics of the limited number of observations, the observation and interview data have been combined to provide a summary of the general strategy. It is hoped that these notes will stimulate discussion, firstly, about the status of cattle in Aboriginal social and economic life and, secondly, about exploitive models applicable to certain species of Australian megafauna. Â
This book aims to fill the gap between unscientific comments about the hazards and benefits of high-fat or low-fat diets and weight control found in magazines and technical and medical reports about lipid biochemistry and obesity. It aims to explain in simple language the biology of feeding and fasting, fattening and slimming in wild animals as well as people. Topics include where fat comes from and how animals and plants handle them, their natural roles in migration, mating breeding and living in unpredictable habitats such as deserts and arctic regions, and their contributions to our cookery, paints and medicines. The physiological mechanisms of digesting, transporting and utilising energy stores are discussed, along with the contribution of fatty tissue to body insulation and the protection of delicate organs. Archaeological, anthropological and physiological evidence is assembled to explore how, when and why people have become fat, and how evolutionary forces have determined the modern diversity of body shape and size. The book ends with a brief account of the contribution of dietary fats and obesity to health in the modern world.
After 15 years of continuing investigation, analysis and publication of the sedimentary sequence at Cuddie Springs, the site and its contents continue to draw considerable attention from those investigating the timing and cause of the extinction of the megafauna. The archaeological record commences at Cuddie Springs around 36ka and overlaps with a record of a handful of megafauna species for up to 10,000 years. The main issue for those supporting the popularly cited 46ka terminal extinction date for megafauna are the 'young' dates for this site. Arguments have also been forwarded suggesting the sediments are reworked, that artefacts are intrusive in the megafaunal-bearing layers or that material has been redeposited in the claypan deposits as river bedload. These issues relate primarily to taphonomy, in particular site formation processes. However, interdisciplinary studies have shown that Cuddie Springs is an ephemeral lake in a landscape of low relief and within its sediments is preserved a highly-stratified record of environment, fauna and humans that has formed over many millennia. Rather than an incoherent mix of material from multiple sources, the data point to an intact accumulation of fossil fauna which, in the upper layers, co-occurs with an archaeological record of human occupation.