Pioneers of Australian Archaeology at Lapstone Creek - Emu Cave - 1935-1936

At the foundation of scientific discipline with shovels and picks.

Lapstone Creek Rock Shelter: Stone Axe A

Kathryn Wren © Australian Museum

The people who excavated the Lapstone Creek Rock Shelter (Emu Cave) in 1935 and 1936 contributed to the development of archaeology in Australia. They attempted, in their own ways, sometime simplistically, to preserve material relics of the Aboriginal past, to learn about it and share their knowledge.

Bernard Hornshaw (1878–1937) is a good example. A tramway worker, he had no formal qualifications in history or anthropology. Hornshaw learnt mostly from books and from observation as a practitioner – a self-made historian and artefact collector who occasionally dug stone artefacts out of the ground. But this was a serious hobby. Known as a finder, recorder and collector to his associates and friends, Hornshaw assembled a large collection of about 8000 artefacts from all over Australia, mostly from New South Wales. He was regarded for his knowledge, study and thorough documentation of Aboriginal rock art. Hornshaw become an important contributor and active foundation member of the Anthropological Society of New South Wales.

George Bunyan (1879–1967), a butcher in Emu Plains, was another passionate collector of artefacts related to Aboriginal history. He often visited local schools to talk to children about the evidence of Aboriginal culture, and encouraged school trips to see his collection. Bunyan was generous in sharing his knowledge, but not a particularly careful caretaker of the artefacts, thus most of his collection was lost or stolen and dispersed over the years. The remaining artefacts, mostly from Emu Plains and Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains, were donated to the Australian Museum. Similar donations of artefacts from around Penrith and Emu Plains were made by L.H. Preston, associated with the group, a resident of Kingswood.

Clifton Towle (1888–1946) was a serious collector, who since the 1920s assembled a very large number of artefacts from various locations from across south-east Australia. Towle was a senior clerk in the Railways Department and he obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Sydney in 1919. He was an amateur anthropologist and co-founder of the Anthropological Society of New South Wales. His articles on anthropology and archaeology were published extensively. Towle donated most of his artefacts to Hornshaw and some to the Australian Museum.

Frederick McCarthy (1905-1997) began working at the Museum without any formal qualification, but he studied anthropology, and in fact submitted his thesis (on the Material Aboriginal Culture of Eastern Australia) in 1935 - the same year when excavation of Lapstone Creek Rock Shelter commenced. He was also a member of the Anthropological Society of New South Wales. McCarthy was associated with, and probably influenced by, his senior colleagues Hornshaw, Bunyan and Towle. Excavation at Lapstone Creek revealed some tensions between McCarthy and Towle about leadership and responsibilities. However McCarthy worked diligently to become one of the first archaeologists in Australia. And it was he who published the results of the Lapstone Creek Excavation in a broader archaeological context, postulating two distinctive cultural periods in the Aboriginal prehistory of south-eastern Australia.

References:

McCarthy, E.D. 1948 The Lapstone Creek excavation: two culture periods revealed in eastern New South Wales. Records of the Australian Museum 22(1):77-79.

Nelson, R.C 2001 B.L Hornshaw (1876-1937): Finder, recorder and collector of Aboriginal art and artefacts. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2:77-79.

This narrative and related images were prepared by the combined effort of work experience student Simona El-khawand, volunteer Penny Zylstra and Stan Florek
 


Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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