Feeding in the Flinders: Past and Present

Emily Hughes brings us tales of adventure and discovery from the Australian Outback as she and her mother search for unbelievably ancient fossils. Her team digs up the creatures that form the evolutionary boundary between microorganism and animal—the Ediacaran biota. 

Back in the day (meaning 560-million years ago), the Flinders Ranges were a much simpler place when it comes to food. All animals lived underwater, and many creatures merely ate the microbial mat on the bottom of the seafloor. There was no predation, so all the species coexisted peacefully, munching on microbial mat or feeding off of what was suspended in the nutrient-rich water.

It’s different in this Australian mountain range today. Trying to scrounge together meals to last us a month here in the Outback is no small task, and one that requires much focus and effort. Often, we end up eating leftover soup or pasta for days on end. However, after a cold and windy morning in the field, soup is exactly what we feel like. We spend lunch out in the field, where we use warm water to make our tea and soup. There is absolutely nothing in the world like a warm “Cup-A-Soup” to heat you up when you’ve been excavating a bed of peaceful vegetarian fossils all morning.

And our meals aren’t all soups, though we do adore soup. We have a fabulous grill that we use once in a while to have delicious grilled veggies and meat.

Ian and Scott are our master grillers, spending hours creating tasty treats. (Photo by Emily Hughes)
Ian and Scott are our master grillers, spending hours creating tasty treats. (Photo by Emily Hughes)

And, once in a very great while, we even get to visit civilization for an evening and get a taste of the Prairie Hotel’s feral anti-pasta.

The feral anti-pasta from the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna is just that: feral. (Photo by Emily Hughes)

The anti-pasta consists of emu pâté, kangaroo meat, camel meat, and goat cheese. When in Rome, eat kangaroo.

Though the food supply for the 560-million-year-old fossils has a style many people strive for today (no meat and completely natural), for us, meat and packaged soup are important aspects of our Outback adventures. And how can anyone be expected to excavate beds full of ancient creatures on an empty stomach?

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Meet the Author
Emily Hughes is an undergraduate student at Wesleyan University, born and bred in Riverside, California. She has spent the majority of her summers exploring the Australian Outback, and finding, recording, analyzing and generally admiring the 560-million year old Ediacara fossils preserved there. She is a prospective double major in English and Earth and Environmental Science, and she works for the student newspaper as well as the sustainability office.