Narrabeen Man

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Narrabeen Man is the name given to a skeleton of an Aboriginal man found by contractors digging a ditch for electricity cables near the corners of Octavia Street and Ocean Street, Narrabeen - North of Sydney, Australia in January 2005.[1]

A forensic investigation was undertaken, bone samples were sent to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California to determine the age of the remains. Radiocarbon dating of the bone suggested an age of around 4000 years for the skeleton.

An archaeological dig at the site revealed that Narrabeen Man was found in a posture unlike a tribal ceremonial burial. Rather than lying on his back with arms by the side or across the chest, the Narrabeen Man was on his side with one arm across his head.[2] Further investigation of the skeletal remains revealed evidence of spear barbs found embedded into his vertebrae and near other parts of the body. This suggested to archaeologist Dr. Denise Donlan that Narrabeen Man was perhaps the first physical evidence of ritual murder in Australia.[3]

The spear barbs found in the skeleton were most likely from what post-settlement Europeans sometimes called "death spears". Although they may have been used in ritual punishments, it seems likely that the same type of spear was used for killing game, such as kangaroos. These spears have sharp flakes of stone, such as silcrete and quartz, embedded side by side into resin along the head of the spear - creating a serrated edge behind the point. The pieces of rock tend to break free from the resin and remain in the flesh of the victim. Spear barbs are also referred to as backed artifacts.

Further examination revealed that Narrabeen Man was approximately 183 cm (6 ft),[4] 30–40 years old. His height was above average for Aboriginal men at this time. It is also speculated that Narrabeen Man was not from a tribe from the greater Sydney region, as his two front teeth were not removed - in-line with a regional initiation rite at the time of European settlement (unless the rite was introduced locally in more recent times than Narrabeen Man's demise).

Narrabeen Man's remains are currently lying under care at Sydney University's Shellshear Museum.[5]

Sydney's oldest skeleton.[6]

Why was he killed? There is no conclusive evidence as to why he was killed. A Narrabeen cultural heritage officer, Allen Madden, suggests that a ritualistic murder of this type represents the farthest extent of tribal law, indicating that his offence, whatever it was, must have been serious.[7]


  1. ^ Morcombe, John (22 August 2013). "Executed 3700 years ago but still searching for a burial site". Manly Daily. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  2. ^ Macey, Richard (26 November 2005). "Bus stop an execution site … 1500 years ago". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  3. ^ Fullagar, Richard; Ulm, Sean; Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists; Jo McDonald Cultural Heritage Management Pty Ltd (2008), Salvage excavation of human skeletal remains at Ocean and Octavia streets, Narrabeen site #45-6-2747, Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists, ISBN 978-0-9590310-2-7 
  4. ^ "Narrabeen Man". Dr Donlon: I estimated from his limb bones that he was 183cm tall, which is about six foot in the old terminology and this is very tall for an Aboriginal man and the average height for Aboriginal men was five foot six. ABC Catalyst. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  5. ^ "Ill-fated warrior needs some rest". Sydney Morning Herald. 6 July 2013. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  6. ^ Lane, Sabra (21 December 2007). "Speared man unearthed after 4,000 years". ABC News. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 
  7. ^ "Man from 1,500 years ago had violent death". 25 November 2005. Retrieved 1 March 2014. 

Corkill T. 2008 (in press). Death Spears In Sydney: Fact, fiction or social construct?. Australian Archaeology.

McDonald, Josephine J., D. Donlon, Judith H. Field, Richard L.K. Fullagar, Joan Brenner Coltrain, Peter Mitchell & Mark Rawson. 2007. The first archaeological evidence for death by spearing in Australia. Antiquity 81:877-885.