The mystery of Narrabeen Man


In 2005 a partly disturbed human skeleton was discovered during excavation to install electricity cables near a bus shelter in Narrabeen, Sydney. The remains were dated to around 4000 years ago and identified as those of an Aboriginal man, 30-40 years of age and around 185 centimetres tall.

The archaeological evidence resulting from the excavation and forensic analysis of the skeleton and associated artefacts are presented here as a 'history mystery'.

Students will investigate the mystery of what happened to Narrabeen Man. They will critically analyse and evaluate the archaeological evidence. They will then develop their own interpretations of the circumstances surrounding his death around 4000 years ago.

This learning sequence uses the process of historical inquiry to conduct the investigation. For a brief outline of the inquiry process, see: The inquiry process (PDF, 112 KB).

Students will follow an investigation process where they complete 7 tasks:

  1. Develop inquiry questions – What happened to Narrabeen Man? What do you know? What do you need to know? (Task 1)
  2. Contextualise topic – Where was Narrabeen Man discovered? (Task 2) How long ago did he die? (Task 3)
  3. Analyse sources – What did the archaeologists find? (Task 4)
    What did the experts say?
  4. Develop interpretations – What happened to Narrabeen Man? (Task 5)
  5. Communicate findings – Forensic report on the death of Narrabeen Man (Task 6).
  6. Review and evaluate learning – What have I learned about Narrabeen Man? (Task 7)

The student tasks are contained in the main resource for this unit, the Investigation kit: the mystery of Narrabeen Man. (PDF, 731 KB)

Using the ABC Catalyst videos

The ABC Catalyst program produced an excellent report on Narrabeen Man in 2008 which is now archived as Catalyst Special Edition: Forensics Special, The Mystery of Narrabeen Man.

The main video produced by Dr Paul Willis presents the discovery, findings and interpretations of the circumstances surrounding the death of Narrabeen Man.

There are also separate 'extended interviews' with:

  • Jo McDonald, archaeologist
  • Dr Denise Donlon, physical anthropologist
  • Allen Madden, Aboriginal consultant
  • Dr Richard Fullagar, archaeologist specialising in stone artefacts.

Watch the videos yourself before beginning the investigation with students so you have a clear understanding of the nature of the discovery, interpretations of cause of death and an Aboriginal cultural perspective on how and why Narrabeen Man was killed.

It is recommended that you do not show the Catalyst videos to your students until they have completed the learning sequence and developed their own theories on what happened to Narrabeen Man.

The removal and investigation of ancestral remains is an issue of sensitivity for some Indigenous communities. Be aware that Indigenous students in your classroom may share these understandings, and be open to discussing these ideas. (Note, for example, that Mungo Man and Mungo Lady are referred to in the resources and assessment activity. Mungo Lady has been returned to her country, but discussions continue regarding the return of Mungo Man from the Australian National University.)

A full reference list is contained in Year 7 program: investigating the ancient past – the mystery of Narrabeen Man (Word, 169 KB).