Preservation of Aboriginal heritage a key part of Blue Mountains Highway upgrade

31 August 2021

The preservation of Aboriginal cultural heritage in the Blue Mountains and Hartley Valley is key as investigations unearth thousands of artefacts along the route of the proposed duplication of the Great Western Highway.

Transport for NSW Director West Alistair Lunn said the Aboriginal community would consider the best methods of preserving an estimated 3000 artefacts unearthed during archaeological test pitting carried out since June.

“The Blue Mountains crossing has strong cultural connections for many groups – including a long history for the Wiradjuri, Gundungurra and Dharug peoples - and this is a key consideration as we continue to plan for the upgrade between Katoomba and Lithgow,” Mr Lunn said.

“The artefacts were unearthed during the recent planned excavation of 17 sites to inform the Environmental Impact Assessment process for the highway upgrade.

“Radiocarbon dating and residue analysis are being used to analyse the artefacts, including stone cutting tools and a hearth, but it is expected that some could be up to 5000 years old.

“We are committed to carrying out all aspects of this important road upgrade according to the highest standards and accordingly we are using specialist archaeological and Aboriginal interpretive consultants to carry out this important task.

“We have also had representatives from the various registered Aboriginal parties (RAP) on site during every one of these digs.

“The artefacts are being kept together under lock and key under strict conditions, according to National Parks and Wildlife legislation and Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) regulations while we work with the Aboriginal community.”

Project Archaeologist Andrew Costello said RAP members had the final say in the care and control of the unearthed items and would ultimately decide how they would be stored or displayed in the future.

“Some could be sent to a museum, some of the artefacts could be reburied in an area of landscape as close to possible where they were excavated once the new road is built,” Mr Costello said.

“There are lots of rules about provenance with the idea that if someone comes along in 50 years to do more study, there is an agreed method of holding and preserving these artefacts with all of the archaeological data to go with it.

“We found a large number of flaked pieces of stone, cores and hammers as well as many by-products of tool-making, including microblades which as a technique date back around 5000 years. The biggest find was an intact hearth from a camp site near Jenolan Caves Road – a camp fire with evidence of stone artefacts and non-human bone.

“Another interesting find was an area with flaked glass and flaked porcelain showing interactions with early arrivers from Europe - instead of using stone, the Aboriginal people were using new materials brought by early settlers.”

Mr Lunn said once residue analysis of blood and other substances and radiocarbon dating had been completed, all the data will be presented and made publicly available.

“A number of the artefacts have been sent to the Centre for Archaeological Science at University of Wollongong for radiocarbon dating and analysis of substances such as dried blood,” he said.

“Once that is completed, the specialist archaeological team, accompanied by representatives of the RAPs, will carry out further excavations.

“This first series of digs was limited to one by one metre squares as per the NSW archaeological Code of Practice, and we will develop specific methodologies and research questions to divulge as much scientific information as possible for the next stage of open area excavations.

“We will learn as much as we can and correlate this with our cultural knowledge learned through the participation with the Aboriginal community.”

For more information on the Great Western Highway upgrade, visit nswroads.work/greatwesternhighway.

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