Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-mqbnt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-24T01:44:25.886Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

An Aboriginal shield collected in 1770 at Kamay Botany Bay: an indicator of pre-colonial exchange systems in south-eastern Australia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 August 2014

Valerie J. Attenbrow
1Australian Museum, 6 College Street, Sydney South, NSW 2010, Australia 2Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Caroline R. Cartwright
3Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG, UK
Rights & Permissions [Opens in a new window]


Core share and HTML view are not possible as this article does not have html content. However, as you have access to this content, a full PDF is available via the ‘Save PDF’ action button.

A bark shield now in the British Museum can be identified from documentary and pictorial evidence as one collected by Captain Cook during his first voyage to Australia in 1770. Such shields often had special value to their Australian Aboriginal owners and hence might have been exchanged over considerable distances. This particular shield is known to have been collected in Kamay Botany Bay but analysis of the bark of which it is made revealed it to be of red mangrove, a tropical species found today more than 500km distant on the New South Wales north coast. It hence bears valuable testimony to the long-distance exchange networks operating in eastern Australia in the period before the disruption caused by European colonisation.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd 2014


Anonymous. 1771. A collection of drawings made in the countries visited by Capt. Cook in his first voyage. 17681771. British Library, Additional MSS 23920.Google Scholar
Attenbrow, V. 2010. Sydney’s Aboriginal past. Sydney: UNSW Press.Google Scholar
Attenbrow, V., Graham, I., Konenko, N., Corkill, T., Byrnes, J., Barron, L. & Grave, P.. 2012. Crossing the Great Divide: a ground-edged hatchet-head from Vaucluse, Sydney. Archaeology in Oceania 47: 4752. Scholar
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.). 1955. The voyage of the Endeavour 1768–1771. The journals of Captain James Cook on his voyages of discovery. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society at the University Press.Google Scholar
Beaglehole, J.C. (ed.). 1963. The ‘Endeavour’ journal of Joseph Banks 1768–71, vol. 2. Sydney: Trustees of the Public Library of NSW in association with Angus & Robertson.Google Scholar
Binns, R.A. & Mcbryde, I.. 1972. A petrological analysis of ground-edge artefacts from northern N.S.W. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
Brayshaw, H. 1986. Aborigines of the Hunter Valley. A study of colonial records. Scone: Scone and Upper Hunter Historical Society.Google Scholar
British Museum. 2013a. Australian bark shield. Available at: bark shield.aspx (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
British Museum. 2013b. Collection online: shield. Available at: (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
Bundock, M. 1978. Notes on the Richmond blacks, in McBryde, I. (ed.) Records of times past: 261–66. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
Campbell, V. 1978. Ethnohistorical evidence on the diet and economy of the Aborigines of the Macleay River Valley, in McBryde, I. (ed.) Records of times past: 82100. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
Cartwright, C.R. 1997. Egyptian mummy portraits: examining the woodworkers’ craft, in Bierbrier, M. (ed.) Portraits and masks. Burial customs in Roman Egypt: 106–11. London: British Museum Press.Google Scholar
Cartwright, C.R. 2013. Identifying the woody resources of Diepkloof Rock Shelter (South Africa) using scanning electron microscopy of the MSA wood charcoal assemblages. Journal of Archaeological Science 40: 3463–74. Scholar
Cartwright, C.R., Ambers, J. & Dyer, J.. 2010. Examination of an Australian bark shield (Oc1978, Q.839). CSR Analytical Request no. AR2010/41. Report produced for the British Museum. Available at: (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
Cartwright, C.R., Jones, C., Gasson, P. & Leme, C.L.D.. 2012. Using stereo imaging in a SEM study of the anatomical changes to Mimosa wood from traditional kilns in Pernambuco, north-east Brazil, in Meeks, N., Cartwright, C.R., Meek, A. & Mongiatti, A. (ed.) Historical technology, materials and conservation: scanning electron microscopy and microanalysis: 135–37. London: Archetype & British Museum.Google Scholar
Collins, D. 1975 [1798]. An account of the English colony in New South Wales, vol. 1. (Edited by B.H. Fletcher). Sydney: A.H. & A.W. Reed in association with the Royal Australian Historical Society.Google Scholar
Dawson, R. 1830. The present state of Australia. London: Smith, Elder & CoGoogle Scholar
Deakin University. 2013. Aragung: the bark shield. Available at: (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
Enright, W.J. 1940. Notes on the Aborigines of the north coast of N.S.W. Mankind 2: 321–24. Scholar
Grave, P., Attenbrow, V., Sutherland, L., Pogson, R. & Forster, N.. 2012. Non-destructive pXRF of mafic stone tools. Journal of Archaeological Science 39: 1674–86. Scholar
Howitt, A.W. 1996 [1904]. The native tribes of south-east Australia. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press for the AIATSIS.Google Scholar
Hunter, J. 1968 [1793]. An historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island, & including the journals of Governors Phillip and King, and of Lieut. Ball; and the voyages from the first sailing of the Sirius in 1787 to the return of that ship’s company to England in 1792 (Australiana Facsimile Editions 148). Adelaide: Libraries Board of South Australia.Google Scholar
Ilic, J. 1991. CSIRO atlas of hardwoods. Bathurst: Crawford House & CSIRO.Google Scholar
InsideWood. n.d. The InsideWood database. (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
Kaeppler, A.L. 1978. ‘Artificial curiosities’: being an exposition of native manufactures collected on the three Pacific voyages of Captain James Cook RN (Bernice P. Bishop Museum Special Publication 65). Honolulu (HI): Bishop Museum Press.Google Scholar
Macgregor, N. 2010. A history of the world in 100 objects. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Mcbryde, I. 1974. Aboriginal prehistory in New England. An archaeological survey of northeastern New South Wales. Sydney: Sydney University Press.Google Scholar
Mcbryde, I. 1978. Wil-im-mee Moor-ring: or, where do axes come from? Mankind 11: 354–82. Scholar
Mcbryde, I. 1979. Petrology and prehistory: lithic evidence for exploitation of stone resources and exchange systems in Australia, in Clough, T. & Cummins, W. (ed.) Stone axe studies: archaeological, petrological, experimental and ethnographic: 113–26. London: Council for British Archaeology.Google Scholar
Mcbryde, I. 1984. Kulin greenstone quarries: the social contexts of production and distribution for the Mt William site. World Archaeology 16: 267–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mcbryde, I. 1997. ‘The landscape is a series of stories’. Grindstones, quarries and exchange in Aboriginal Australia: a Lake Eyre case study, in Ramos-Mill´an, A. & Bustillo, M.A. (ed.) Siliceous rocks and culture (Monogr´afica Arte y Arqueolog´ıa 42): 587607. Granada: Universidad de Granada.Google Scholar
Mcbryde, I. & Watchman, A.. 1993. ‘&lost in the Sirius…’? Consideration of the provenance of the hatchet head recovered from the Sirius wreck site. Records of the Australian Museum supplement 17: 129–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mccarthy, F.D. 1939a. ‘Trade’ in Aboriginal Australia, and ‘trade’ relationships with Torres Strait, New Guinea and Malaya. Oceania 9: 405–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mccarthy, F.D. 1939b. ‘Trade’ in Aboriginal Australia, and ‘trade’ relationships with Torres Strait, New Guinea and Malaya [continued]. Oceania 10: 80104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mccarthy, F.D. 1947. An analysis of the large stone implements from five workshops on the north coast of New South Wales. Records of the Australian Museum 21(8): 411–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Megaw, J.V.S. 1993. Something old, something new: further notes on the Aborigines of the Sydney district as represented by their surviving artefacts, and as depicted in some early European representations, in Specht, J.R. (ed.) McCarthy, FD, commemorative papers (Archaeology, Anthropology, Rock Art). Records of the Australian Museum supplement 17: 2544.Google Scholar
Megaw, J.V.S. 1994. There’s a hole in my shield…’ a textural footnote. Australian Archaeology 38: 3537.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mulvaney, D.J. 1976. ‘The chain of connection’: the material evidence, in Peterson, N. (ed.) Tribes and boundaries in Australia: 7294. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. 2002. Botany Bay National Park Plan of Management. Sydney: NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service. Available at: (accessed 28 February 2014).Google Scholar
NSW Royal Botanic Gardens. 2010. Rhizophora stylosa Griff. Available at: stylosa (accessed 20 February 2014).Google Scholar
Peron, F. & De Freycinet, L.. 1824. Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes, fait par ordre du governement, sur les corvettes le geographe, le naturaliste et la goëlette le Casuarina, pendant les ann´es 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803 et 1804. Paris: Arthus Bertrand.Google Scholar
Renfrew, C. 1977. Alternative models for exchange and spatial distribution, in Earle, T.K. & Erickson, J.E. (ed.). Exchange systems in prehistory: 7190. New York, San Francisco (CA) & London: Academic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tench, W. 1979 [1793]. Sydney’s first four years, being a reprint of a narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay and a complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson. (Edited by L.F. Fitzhardinge). Sydney: Library of Australian History & Royal Australian Historical Society.Google Scholar
Troy, J. 1994. The Sydney language. Canberra: Jakelin Troy.Google Scholar
Van Vliet, G.J.C.M. 1976. Wood anatomy of the Rhizophoraceae. Leiden Botanical Series 3: 2075.Google Scholar
Wafer, J. & Lissarrague, A.. 2008. A handbook of Aboriginal languages of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Nambucca Heads: Muurrbay Aboriginal Language & Culture Co-operative.Google Scholar
Wheeler, E.A. 2011. InsideWood—a web resource for hardwood anatomy. IAWA Journal 32: 199211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wheeler, E.A., Pearson, R.G., Lapasha, C.A., Zack, T. & Hatley, W.. 1986. Computer-aided wood identification (North Carolina Agricultural Research Service Bulletin 474). Raleigh: North Carolina State University.Google Scholar
Wilson, N.C. 2009. The distribution, growth, reproduction and population genetics of a mangrove species, Rhizophora stylosa Griff. near its southern limits in New South Wales, Australia. Unpublished PhD dissertation, Australian Catholic University.Google Scholar