Botany Bay BB4 Archaeological Site, New South Wales: NP1059

Altho’ ... shell fish is their Chief support, yet they catch other sorts of fish, some of which we found roasting on the fire the first time we landed; some of these they strike with Gigs, and others they catch with hook and line.’ James Cook’s Journal: 6 May 1770

Botany Bay Archaeological Site BB4: Trenches A-E

Botany Bay Archaeological Site BB4: Trenches A-E
Photographer: Vincent Megaw © Australian Museum

Captain Cook’s Landing Place in Kurnell, now the Sydney suburb located on the southern headland of Botany Bay, has special historical symbolism. On 29 April 1770 Captain James Cook and his companions, botanists Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander stepped onto the Australian soil, right into the land of the Gweagal People. Over eight days the Europeans explored the area, eventually naming it Botany Bay because of the rich harvest of botanical specimens they collected.

The Gweagal People generally avoided direct interaction with the Europeans, but this short encounter left a significant mark on history. For Indigenous Australians it became a symbol of invasion; for others the landing place is often considered ‘the birthplace of modern Australia’, even though Cook symbolically annexed the east coast of Australia for Britain a few months later, on 22 August, in far north Torres Strait.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Vincent Megaw, now Emeritus Professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, excavated the Aboriginal site at Captain Cook’s Landing Place, now called amiably the Meeting Place. The site includes an extensive midden, which dates from about 2,000 years ago to the early 1800s. It contains large amounts of shell and fish-bone. Sydney cockle, turban shells, mussels and oysters, as well as bones of snapper and bream indicate the meals of the Gweagal and their ancestors. There are also remnants, in smaller quantities, of seals, dolphins, whales, sea-birds, reptiles and some mammals, including kangaroo, dingo, bandicoot and quoll. Remnants of fire places indicate that people were camping and cooking their meals there.

The site is known for the large quantity of complete and partially-finished fish hooks made from Sydney turban shell as well as numerous bone points that were used as tips on multi-prong fishing spears. Some stone artefacts include edge-ground axes used for various woodwork, among which making bark canoes was an important task for this nation of consummate fishermen and women. The archaeological evidence from this site neatly complements the Aboriginal mode of life at Botany Bay as recorded by Captain Cook, Joseph Banks and subsequent European diarists of the First Fleet 18 years later.


BB1 (Inscription Point rockshelter), BB2 and BB3 (2 trenches west of the stream where Cook procured water) were excavated in 1968. BB4 (7 trenches) to the east of the stream was excavated in 1970/1971.

This story was prepared by Diana Tsoulos and Stan Florek

Dr Stan Florek , Database Manager
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