Located at the north-western end of a long cliff-line, the Great Mackerel Shelter was researched in 1989, and excavated as part of a Ph.D. field programme in 1992. The archaeological contents of the shelter site include art (stencils, drawings and paintings) and occupation deposit (shell, stone artefacts, bone and pigment).
A total of 114 motifs were recorded at the site, the majority of these being stencils. The 1992 study found “Two artistic phases are represented at the site. The earlier art phase consists of red hand stencils only, while the later phase includes white stenciling, white drawing and painting, and charcoal drawing”.
Analysis of the motifs found:
- White is the predominant colour used (66%), followed by red (19%) and black (16%)
- Stenciling technique is most common (82%), then drawn motifs (16%) and painted motifs are rare (3%)
- Majority of the 21 red hand stencils (52%) are left hands, 19% are right hands and remainder (29%) indeterminate
- Of the white hand stencils most also left handed (71%) and 12% are right handed; 17% were indeterminate
The range of the white hand stencil sizes suggest the presence of a mixed family group at the site (and there are four examples of a baby’s hand in direct association with a medium sized hand – which may be the mother’s).
As well as hand stencils (in white and red ochre), the shelter has a boomerang drawn in white ochre.
Based on the art within the shelter, McDonald concluded: “the Great Mackerel site is unusual in terms of its assemblage size, its higher than average hand stencil component and the predominance of white pigment. In terms of motif content, its range is relatively restricted, and there is an emphasis on several unusual or less common motifs – for example bird track and material objects. There are fewer than average unrecognisable motifs. This motif clarity, especially in light of the assemblage’s general complexity, suggests that the later art phase may be relatively recent in age.”
As well as the analysis of the shelter art, the 1992 research included excavation of 1032.75 kg of deposit from the site which provided evidence of two phases of occupation:
- an early Bondaian** phase with no shell (dating from around 3670 ± 150 BP, overlain by a
- late Bondaian midden associated layer, dating to between 560 ± 160 BP.
Archaeological investigations show changes in the types of stone tools used by Aboriginal people through time. One sequence of changes identified (McCarthy 1948) is called the ‘Eastern Regional Sequence’ (McCarthy 1976: 96-98) after initial excavation at Lapstone Creek rock shelter (Emu Cave) in 1936 located on a small tributary of the Nepean River… Six layers of floor deposit were excavated and the lower deposit had significant numbers of Bondi points (see below) which gave way to ‘chunky’ adze flakes called eloueras (that could be gummed to a wood handle and were used for wood working) and edge ground axe heads. McCarthy called them Bondaian and Eloueran respectively as cultural markers.