|14 September 2008
Bones reveal final moments of ancient Australian man
He was killed by a barrage of spear thrusts and an axe blow to the head - a payback punishment. That is how Sydney's oldest known ex-resident - Narrabeen Man - died at the hands of his own tribe. Scientists have revealed that bones found under a beachside bus shelter three years ago have now been carbon dated at more than 4000 years old.
The bones give a rare insight into the punishment rituals of Aborigines before the arrival of Europeans. Since the skeleton was found during excavation work in Narrabeen on the Northern Beaches in January, 2005, Sydney pathologist Denise Donlon and Canberra archaeologist Jo McDonald have pieced together the how, where and, possibly, why he was killed. Estimated to be between 30 and 40 years old and 183cm tall - unusually big for an Aborigine of the time - Narrabeen Man died after being axed in the head and speared three times in the stomach and back. Researchers found 17 small stone flakes, including three embedded in his spine.
Dr McDonald said it was clear Narrabeen Man had been executed. "In these instances multiple spears are used and the intention is to kill. This is usually a last resort - a less serious infraction involved a spear in the leg," Dr McDonald said. The man had old wounds indicating he had been on the receiving end of previous punishments, culminating in his execution in the dunes where Ocean St now runs. "Aboriginal society was very careful about the way they carried out punishment of crimes. It was violent, but socially prescribed, because this person had obviously done something wrong," Dr McDonald said. "It is always exciting to find that sort of evidence, particularly under a bus shelter in Sydney, that tells such a thrilling story about something that happened so long ago," the archaeologist added.
The remains were found by workers about 1.5m underground and about 9m above the current sea level. The ocean was 2m higher back then. "We think he fell there and his body was covered by sand blowing over him," Dr McDonald said. Narrabeen Man's skeleton reflected 'a hard existence'.
Source: The Australian (8 September 2008)
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