A number of highly mineralized and carbonate encrusted skeletons were excavated by George Murray Black from a sandhill near Merran Creek, not far from Nacurrie railway siding and north of Swan Hill, in August of 1949 (letters from G.M. Black to L.J. Ray) (google map http://www.geodata.us/australia_names_maps/aumaps.php?fid=77569&f=77&name=Nacurrie%20Railway%20Station). These were taken to Melbourne and stored with the remainder of the Murray Black Collection in the Department of Anatomy, University of Melbourne. In February 1971 Professor Ray, former Head of the Department of Anatomy, sent the most complete of the skeletons from this site to the late Professor N.W.G. Macintosh for cleaning, reconstruction and analysis (information supplied by Mrs A. Macintosh). Macintosh and Larnach (1976:117) briefly refer to this individual as the "Murrabit skull" and remark that it "is almost an identical twin to Cohuna. Its frontal curvature index is very nearly identical. It has a massive mandible". After Macintosh's death in 1977 the Nacurrie skeleton was returned to Melbourne (Brown 2009).
In 1980 Professor Ray and I discussed the Nacurrie material with the aim of bringing Macintosh's work to fruition. This project, in turn, was not completed. Professor Ray's unexpected illness and death in 1981, and my wish to complete the analysis of the Coobool Creek skeletons before beginning a new project, intervened. It was not until 1983 that I was able to continue work on the Nacurrie material. Unfortunately, removal of the carbonate crust from the cranial vault, face and mandible of the Nacurrie skeleton had not been conducted with adequate care (Brown 1989). Parts of the facial skeleton, cranial vault and postcrania had also never been sent to Sydney and it was necessary to clean and integrate them with the rest of the skeleton. Just as the entire skeleton had been cleaned and reconstructed in 1984 a change in the Victorian State Relics Legislation resulted in all of the G.M. Black collection, of which Nacurrie was a part, being impounded and eventually reburied. At the time I thought that, Nacurrie's contribution to the prehistory of the continent was, at best, going to be extremely limited.
Radiocarbon dating of the Nacurrie skeleton was first attempted by Macintosh through the New Zealand Institute of Nuclear Sciences in 1971. Dating of secondary carbonates, removed from the external surface of the cranial vault, suggested that Nacurrie was somewhat younger than Keilor. In 1976, a cast was made of one femur so that the original could be used to obtain a radiocarbon date from the bone collagen fraction. This project was not completed due to Macintosh's death. Eventually an AMS collagen date of 11440 ± 160 years BP (NZA 1069) was obtained from a part of the skeleton, confirming Macintosh, Ray and Larnach's belief in the antiquity of Nacurrie (Brown 1994, 2009).
The Nacurrie skeleton was reasonably complete, apart from the thoracic cavity and hands, with postdepositional damage restricted to the right side of the vault, basi-cranium, mid-facial skeleton and articular surfaces of the appendicular skeleton. A brief description of the skeleton, for a general audience, was published in 1994 (Brown 1994a), with a detailed description in Brown (2009). The skeleton was from a tall and robustly built old adult male, with an artificially deformed cranial vault, poorly healed bilateral fractures of both forearms, a healed depressed fracture on the right parietal and a healed fracture of the right distal fibula which is ankylosed to the tibia. A description and photographs of Nacurrie's fractured forearms can be found in Webb (1995: 70-73), who neglects to acknowledge any of the earlier work with the skeleton. Fractures of the forearm and cranial vault are extremely common in prehistoric, male and female, Aboriginal skeletal material as a result of traditional methods of dispute settlement. Ethnographic accounts of dispute settlement procedures and surveys of fracture distributions can be found in Brown (1989, 1994b) and Knuckey (1992).
The remaining external auditory meatus had a well developed auditory exotosis and there is flattening and extensive arthritic remodelling of the temporal eminence. The teeth were extremely worn, with an edge to edge anterior bite and pulp canal exposure due to extreme tooth wear in five of the remaining teeth. Several of the missing teeth had been lost before death due to acute wear, abscess development and associated loss of alveolar bone. This degree of tooth wear was common amongst traditional Aboriginal communities. A combination of minimal pre-masticatory preparation of tough, abrasive foods, using teeth as tools and bruxism resulted in extensive crown reduction and pulp canal exposure by early middle age (Barrett 1977; Brown 1989,1992,1994b; Campbell 1925).
Stature can be estimated from a maximum femur (499 mm) and humerus length (366 mm) in Nacurrie using regression formulae developed for determining the stature of Afro-Americans (Krogman and Iscan 1986). Similarities in relative limb proportions between hot climate Africans and Aborigines make these the most appropriate formulae to use given the absence of specific Aboriginal formulae. At approximately 180 cm tall Nacurrie is considerably taller than the male average, 167 cm, in this part of Australia at European contact. This is in keeping with the greater skeletal size and robusticity described for terminal Pleistocene Australians relative to their mid-Holocene counterparts (Brown 1989; Brown 1992; Brown 1994b, Brown 2009). Over the first 5,000 years of the Holocene there was gradual reduction in stature, skeletal robusticity, brain size and tooth size in south-eastern Australia. The mechanisms behind this reduction are unclear, with a range of alternatives discussed in Brown (1989, 1992) and Lewin (1995).
It has not been possible to gain acess to the Nacurrie skeleton since 1985, and it has now been repatriated. I published a description of the skeleton in 2009.
My casts, radiographs and photographs of the Nacurrie skeleton were stored in the Department of Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology, University of New England. These casts have now been relocated to the School of Archaeology & Anthropology, ANU. Casts of the cranial vault, right femur and mandible can also be found in the Shellshear Museum, Department of Anatomy, University of Sydney, and the Anthropology Department, Natural Science Museum, Tsukuba, also has casts of the vault and mandible.
Barrett, M. J. 1977. Masticatory and non-masticatory uses of teeth. In R. S. V. Wright (ed.), Stone tools as cultural markers: change, evolution and complexity, pp. 18-23. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.
Brown, P. 1989. Coobool Creek: A morphological and metrical analysis of the crania, mandibles and dentitions of a prehistoric Australian human population. Terra Australis 13. Department of Prehistory, Australian National University, Canberra.
Brown, P. 1992. Post-Pleistocene change in Australian Aboriginal tooth size: dental reduction or relative expansion? In T. Brown and S. Molnar (eds.), Human craniofacial variation in Pacific Populations, pp. 33-52. Anthropology and Genetics Laboratory, University of Adelaide, Adelaide.
Brown, P. 1994a. Human skeletons. In D. Horton (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia, pp. 990-991. Australian Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra.
Brown, P. 1994b. Vault thickness in Asian Homo erectus and modern Homo sapiens. Courier Forschungs-Institut Senckenberg 171:33-46.
Brown, P. 2009. Nacurrie 1: mark of ancient Java or a mother's caring hands in terminal Pleistocene Australia. Journal of Human Evolution 59, 168-187.
Campbell, T.D. 1925. Dentition and palate of the Australian Aboriginal. Hassell Press, Adelaide.
Knuckey, G. 1992. Patterns of fracture upon Aboriginal crania from the recent past. In N. W. Bruce (ed.), Living with civilisation, pp. 47-58. Centre for Human Biology, University of Western Australia, Perth.
Krogman, W. M. and Iscan, M. Y. 1986. The human skeleton in forensic medecine. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, IL.
Lewin, R. 1995. Rise and fall of big people. New Scientist 146 (1974): 30-33.
Macintosh, N.W.G. and Larnach, S.L. 1976. Australian Aboriginal affinities looked at in world context. In R. L. Kirk and A. G. Thorne (eds.), The Origin of the Australians, pp. 113-126. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.
Webb, S.G. 1995. Palaeopathology of Aboriginal Australians: health and disease across a hunter-gatherer continent. Cambridge UP: Melbourne.
|glabella opisthocranion||209||lambda-asterion||90||parietal eminence thickness||9.1|
|glabella-lambda||209||auriculare bregma||133||asterion thickness||9.8|
|glabella-bregma||134||auriculare nasion||114||external o-p thickness||21.5|
|nasion-bregma||138||auriculare lambda||137||parietal angle||129.5|
|frontal subtense height||20||auriculare-inion||141||maxillary ml b-l||15.1|
|nasion subtense||82||nasospinale prosthion||25||maxillary m3 b-l||14.1|
|frontal curvature index||14.5||orbital breadth||45||symphyseal height||45|
|post orbital minimum breadth||104||mastoid length||30||symphyseal thickness||17|
|max temp lines frontal||88||frontal arc||149||mandibular body thickness||17|
|bi-stephanion||96||parietal arc||142||bigonial breadth||109|
|bregma-lambda||123||mid-frontal thickness||9.5||ramus minimum breadth||40|
|parietal subtense height||29||pre-bregmatic thickness||12.3||right femur maximum length||478|
|bregma to parietal subtense||60||bregma thickness||10.5||max length left humerus||361|
|parietal curvature index||23.6||vertex thickness||8.5||max length right humerus||366|