Thesis abstract ‘Australian Aboriginal Resource Selection: Reasons and Implications’

13th November 2013

Sean McBride

BA(Hons), School of Social Sciences, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 2000

This thesis presents a study of the reasons that may be involved in selecting certain food resources and the associated energy returns for a number of Australian Aboriginal plant food staples. Utilising optimal foraging theory and the idea that humans and other animals attempt to optimise their energy returns, energy is adopted as a currency, to test whether Aboriginal people were in fact operating optimally in the selection of plant staples.

The various physiological determinants of human food selection are discussed. Influenced, as they are, by cultural considerations and a proposed list of criteria as the basis of food selection is presented. It is demonstrated that energy returns are quite low for collecting and processing of Typha spp. based on a comparison of energy returns from a variety of Aboriginal plant food staples. The results of the analysis indicate that Typha spp. is a poor choice from an optimisation viewpoint. However, Typha spp. m.as a staple food of the Aborigines of the central Murray region. How is this apparent contradiction resolved?

It is argued from the evidence that the people of the central Murray relied on Typha spp. because they were nutritionally stressed. Rather than optimising energy, they were optimising survival and Typha was necessary to fulfil physiological carbohydrate requirements in the absence of alternative sources. A generalised model of human food selection is presented that may be applicable in other areas and may provide some predictive capability for hunter-gatherer subsistence studies.

McBride, S.
Thesis abstract 'Australian Aboriginal Resource Selection: Reasons and Implications'
2002
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