Antiquity, vol. 81, no.314, pp 877-885, London, 2007
Workmen digging a ditch under a bus shelter at Narrabeen on Sydney’s northern beaches in January 2005 found the skull and skeleton of a tall Aboriginal man.
He had one wound in his left hip and two through his back, inflicted by stone tipped spears. The tip of a stone barb was still embedded in his spine. An axe wound in his skull is thought to be the coup de grace that proved fatal in his final agonising moments.
This is the first archaeological evidence for death by spearing in Australia. Based on similar revenge battles in the Sydney area in the eighteenth century this was a ritual spearing. The stone-barbed killing spear resembles one used by the Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy to spear Governor Phillip’s game-shooter John McEntire in December 1790.
Narrabeen Man was 183 centimetres tall and between 30 to 40 years old. Radio carbon dating of bone samples sent to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California dated the skeleton to about 3677 years before the present (BP). An analysis of the isotope chemistry of the man’s bones revealed that he lived on a diet of fish, shellfish, seaweed and sea birds.
Narrabeen Man had not lost a front tooth, noted as a crucial part of Aboriginal initiation rites in the Sydney coastal area. The practice, called ‘tooth evulsion’, can be dated to 8000 years BP, but might not have reached the eastern coast by 3700 BP.
Teeth were not removed in the differing inland culture at the Hawkesbury River, where in 1791 Governor Arthur Phillip encountered two garradigan or ‘doctors of renown’ whose teeth were intact. When questioned, the Aboriginal guides Colebee (a Gadigal from Sydney’s eastern suburbs) and Ballooderry (a Burramattagal from the Parramatta area), whose teeth had been knocked out at initiation, refused to ask why and dropped the subject.
The same year Captain Watkin Tench met two Hawkesbury men, Deedora and Morùnga, whose teeth were intact.
ANOTHER ‘NARRABEEN ‘MAN’?
It’s worth pointing out that the skeletal remains of an Aboriginal man was found in June 1945 in Ocean Street, Narrabeen by two boys who had been cycling, as reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (18 June 1945, page 3).
Police believed the skeleton had been uncovered by recent rains. A dentist who examined the teeth said it was that of an Aboriginal man aged 35 to 70 years old.
‘Narrabeen Man’ was found in 2005 at the bus shelter at the corner of Ocean and Octavia Street, Narrabeen.
Adapted from the Gamaragal exhibition Manly Art Gallery & Museum, 2013-14 curated by Keith Vincent Smith
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith