Archaeological investigations in Parramatta

New archaeological investigations in Parramatta provide direct evidence of Aboriginal people being in the Sydney basin 31,000 years ago.

GML Principal Dr Tim Owen has co-authored, with a team from Macquarie University, the paper: ‘An Aboriginal presence in the Sydney basin prior to the LGM; further investigations into the age and formation of the Parramatta Sand Body’, which was recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The results of the study provide direct evidence for Aboriginal people being in Parramatta approximately 31,000 years ago.

In the paper, Tim and his co-authors investigate the age and deposition of early Aboriginal cultural material within site ‘AT14’, an Aboriginal site on the eastern banks of Parramatta River in the grounds of the Cumberland Hospital. The work determined that AT14 represents one of the oldest known sites with evidence of First Nations occupation in greater Sydney.

AT14 was re-discovered during works for the Parramatta Light Rail. GML was able to work with project engineers to permanently conserve half of the site intact. The archaeology of AT14 is held within the Parramatta Sand Body (PSB). This ancient sedimentary sand deposit borders parts of Parramatta River, which today flows into Sydney Harbour.

The PSB holds significant Aboriginal archaeological and geomorphological heritage values, and is listed on the NSW State Heritage Register. Although the lower portions of the sand deposit pre-date human occupation, some locations nearer the surface contain dense Aboriginal archaeological deposits with a profusion of stone tools and remains of cooking and heating hearths.

AT14 contained thousands of stone artefacts, and over 20 pits and cooking features. A detailed program of scientific dating was able to couple optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) and radiocarbon dates, to confirm that First Nations people had started occupying the banks along Parramatta River over 31,000 years ago. First Nations people continued to use the site through the colonial invasion, with stratified evidence in the form of a worked glass object. Further results on the site will be published in the next year.

Read the paper in full online.

The AT14 excavation area in Parramatta. Each of the black areas is an Aboriginal hearth or pit feature used for cooking.