Archaeological dig to explore Aboriginal connection to Blue Mountains


4 June 2021

Archaeological work will continue into July along the route of the Great Western Highway to identify buried artefacts of cultural and heritage significance to the Aboriginal people.

Transport for NSW Director West Alistair Lunn said a team of Aboriginal representatives, archaeologists and a geomorphologist is carrying out the work between Katoomba and Lithgow.

"About 14 Aboriginal sites and areas of potential archaeological deposits will be carefully excavated to inform the Environmental Impact Statement for the Great Western Highway upgrade," Mr Lunn said.

"We acknowledge Aboriginal people have been crossing the mountains for thousands of years. It was an important Aboriginal route with strong cultural connections for many groups long before Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth searched for a way to the Central West.

"This will be an important study which may unearth some interesting artefacts."

Transport for NSW staff carried out initial surveys during 2020 with local Aboriginal land councils and native title applicants to determine areas for closer investigation.

Archaeologist Andrew Costello from Jacobs said investigation work is taking place at various sites between Lithgow and Katoomba including paddocks, road verges, escarpments, some areas of National Park, hills and floodplains.

"Hand excavation is the method we use, targeting specific one by one metre areas within these locations," Mr Costello said.

"We use a uniform grid over the area and focus on this small metre square using shovels, trowels and brushes to remove soil which is sieved using water and vibration.

"Artefacts are usually found during the wet sieving process, as the water highlights different types of stones used including quartz, silcrete and chert. An example could be a stone tool crafted to a fine edge for cutting skins, preparing food and weapons, or other cutting and grinding tools.

"We are constantly looking for microscopic evidence of blood or plant material, for follow up residue analysis in the lab.

"The future of any items unearthed in the dig is then decided by Aboriginal community groups and Councils. Sometimes there is a desire is to rebury items, others want them in a keeping place or an educational facility for people to look at, or perhaps a museum."

A cultural values and heritage assessment will also be carried out with the help of more than 20 Aboriginal knowledge holders representing a diverse range of local knowledge and experience.

On completion of each investigation, clean soil is used to fill the excavated area.

Work is being carried out on weekdays between 8am and 4pm, weather permitting, and is expected to be completed next month.

The community will be notified of any changed traffic conditions associated with work in advance of it starting.

For more information on the Great Western Highway upgrade, visit the Great Western Highway Upgrade Program - Katoomba to Lithgow project page.