Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage

Occupation sites

These are places that show where Aboriginal people have lived. They contain stone tools, fireplaces, and occasionally food remains such as shells, bones and plant seeds.

The three main types of occupation sites are shell middens, rock shelters with archaeological deposits, and open camp sites.

Shell middens

Aboriginal people have lived on the Australian coast for many thousands of years. They have found food and raw materials in the continent's wide variety of coastal environments.

Physical remains of Aboriginal life and activity can be found on the coast and along the edges of rivers and lakes in both coastal and inland zones. Shell middens are the most obvious signs of this. A midden is a 'rubbish dump', made up of the remains of edible shellfish and is among the most visible and common type of archaeological site in NSW. A midden may also contain fish and animal bones, stone tools, and charcoal from campfires. These remains show how Aboriginal people used their environment.

Rock shelters with archaeological deposits

In outcrops of rock such as sandstone or granite, overhangs may form cave-type shelters. Aboriginal people stayed in these shelters. Over the years, material would build up, including ashes from fires, sediments, food, discarded tools and material from the cave roof. Archaeologists can excavate these deposits in order to study the patterns of Aboriginal life in the past. When undisturbed, these sites have high scientific value.

Open camp sites

These sites are mostly surface scatters of stone, sometimes near fireplaces. Recent studies have shown them to have significant scientific and cultural value. If you come across an open camp site, please do not move any artefacts from the spot where they lie.

Aboriginal people and biodiversity

Find out how Aboriginal people recognise the cultural values of biodiversity and how Aboriginal heritage is inseparable from the natural environment - from individual plants and animals to whole ecosystems.

Page last updated: 26 February 2011