Lapstone Creek Rock Shelter (Emu Cave) Archaeological Site, New South Wales
A fascinating early landmark site in Aboriginal Australian archaeology
The Lapstone Creek Rock Shelter played an important role in the development of Archaeology in Australia. The excavation of this shelter, by a group of pioneers in 1935 and 1936, revealed cultural changes through time. The evidence, in the form of different stone artefacts, allowed the identification of at least two, and possibly three, periods. During this time, the Aboriginal ancestors continued camping at the shelter, using a clearly different set of tools. This showed some chronological depth of the Aboriginal past in Australia, opening the window into what is the essential bedrock of pre-history - a time before the present. Obvious to us now, such ideas were not quite as clear some hundred years ago, and they needed to be constructed from evidence rather than assumed.
The pioneer investigators of the Lapstone Creek Shelter, Messrs. Bunyan, Hornshaw, Preston, Towle and McCarthy, shared a passionate interest in Aboriginal culture. They developed expertise, as well as building collections of wooden tools and weapons, rock art and stone artefacts. Individually and, sometimes together, they embarked on numerous collecting trips: mostly in New South Wales - assembling their impressive collections of stone artefacts from various localities across the state.
It was George Bunyan, a resident at Emu Plains (a Sydney western suburb, at the foot of Blue Mountains), who discovered stone artefacts in the shelter, known to locals as Emu Plains Cave. He collected some artefacts from the cave and recognised that more material was buried under the surface.
The excavations, the ‘digs’, were conducted in September 1935 and February 1936 with the help of family members. The artefacts recovered in these excavations were divided between the men. Some of them documented the ‘digs’ in their field notes, photographs and inventory of recovered materials. This communal enterprise, and at times difficult process of sharing results and responsibilities, made it harder to draw this material together for publication. It was McCarthy who published results of the excavation, and who eventually become one of the first Australian archaeologists - more by practice than training. Many years later Raymond Nelson offered insightful additions and historical outlines of this important excavation.
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. http://australianmuseum.net.au/journal/McCarthy-1948-Rec-Aust-Mus-221-134/
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 Kathryn Wren, volunteer Penny Zylstra and Stan Florek
Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager