Excavation site near Maroota Trig - 2006


View Larger Map

Maroota is located on the uplifted and deeply dissected Hornsby Plateau in eastern Australia. It is about 50 kilometres north west of the Sydney CBD and around 200 metres above sea level  (see Google map above).

The Maroota Sand is a distinct geological formation on top of the main north/south ridgeline. It is unique on the Hornsby Plateau and covers a relatively small area of land surface compared to other local formations such as the Hawkesbury Sandstone and Wianamatta Group rocks. Emplaced during the Tertiary period (which dates from 65 million to 2 million years ago) the Sands appear to be the remains of two ancient river systems. Each carried its own suite of sands, clays and gravels, which were deposited and abandoned when the rivers dried up as the Hornsby Plateau rose above the Cumberland Basin to its west. For further information on the formation and structure of the Sydney Basin see http://www.amonline.net.au/geoscience/earth/sydbasin.htm

Among the gravels that are sporadically present in the Maroota Sand formation are several rock types that were useful to the Indigenous inhabitants of the area in the past. These include silcrete, quartz, jasper, agate and chert, which were flaked for use in tools such as spear barbs and scrapers, and metamorphic rocks which were made into edge-ground hatchet heads and chisels. See also arts.anu.edu.au/arcworld/resources/int and http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5737284/geo-sites.htm .

In recent years the Maroota Sands have been disappearing at an ever-increasing rate, to feed the demand for building materials for Sydney’s ever increasing sprawl. It is true that supplies of easily accessible building sand are becoming scarce and exploitation of the Maroota resource appears necessary, but it is important that an entire geological formation should not be allowed to disappear without documenting and/or instigating studies of the type that constitute EISs preceding such developments, (e.g. archaeology, flora and fauna).

Aerial photo of sandmining at Maroota in the 1980s (http://www.baulkhamhills.nsw.gov.au/hillsvoices/)

Geological heritage does not appear to have the same kind of legal protection that covers cultural and biological heritage. However, many areas of geological significance have been described and recommended for various forms of research and/or conservation (see Ian Percival’s 1985 publication “The Geological Heritage of New South Wales: Volume I”, which includes the first 40 areas to be documented). The co-operation of many organisations and individuals was necessary to achieve these listings. For further information on Maroota and other geological sites of interest in and beyond Sydney, see http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5737284/geo-sites.htm .

It was with the above issues in mind that the Maroota Sands Heritage Project was devised.

The Maroota Sands Heritage Project

The project commenced in 2006. Its primary aim is to collate all available geological, archaeological and biological information on the Maroota Sand Formation (the official name of the Sand body) and make this available to the local and wider communities, so they can make informed decisions about this unique geological formation within the Sydney Basin.

Other objectives are: 1) To obtain new information on the Maroota Sand Formation, through collaboration and consultation with research institutes (e.g. The Australian Museum), individual scientific experts, Indigenous groups, and local land-holders, including sandminers; 2) to establish a properly identified scientific, cultural and educational collection of materials from the Maroota Sand (e.g. cobbles and sand) for use by local communities, educational and other research groups.

The project is unfunded and attempts to obtain an Environmental Education grant have so far been unsuccessful. All work is therefore carried out on a voluntary basis, mainly by the co-ordinator, geoarchaeologist Tessa Corkill and geologist Dr John Byrnes, with assistance from a number of local people and experts in various fields.

General progress to date (2009)

Several themes have been researched and reported on, originally in a monthly Newsletter published in the Maroota Living Heritage magazine and also emailed to a 50-strong list, between  February 2006 to December 2007. We have also taken part in local meetings such as those of Eastbend Communications and the Maroota Forest Conservation Committee. For more in-depth information on the main themes below and others of relevance, visit  the appropriate pages via the links below and at the top of this page.


Copies of a number of research documents have been obtained or online links made available. These include reports on the economic and research potential of the ancient river channel now known as the Maroota Sands (the name that was proposed by the late Denis Bell in his 1966 PhD thesis) or a remnant of the Great Lost River of the Tertiary (which is the subject of current research by Dr John Byrnes http://dl.dropbox.com/u/5737284/geo-sites.htm .

Samples of cobbles and pebbles have been collected from Sands outcrops outside areas held by sandmining companies. Rock types include fossilised wood (identification of which will be useful for dating the formation and for linking up palaeochannel remnants throughout the region) and silcrete (sharp flakes of which were used for many millennia by the Aboriginal people of the Sydney region; silcrete is also useful in palaeochannel research).

Basalt from an outcrop overlying the Sands was collected and has been dated (as part of an Australian Museum research project) to around 45 million years ago. This implies that the palaeochannel was active or abandoned in the early Tertiary period.

Sand and gravel samples have been donated by one of the sandmining companies.

Indigenous Archaeology & European History

We have copies of over 20 Aboriginal archaeological studies carried out in the area (mainly in connection with sandmining DAs). Only a few archaeological sites have been identified on the Sands themselves but around 100 have been recorded within the surrounding five kilometres. These include engravings and rockshelter art, grinding grooves and sites with stone artefacts. Information has also been gathered about Maroota during colonial times (e.g. the building of the Great Northern Road, the unsuccessful soldier-settler project and the mysterious “gold-shaft”).

BiodiversityEnvironmental Impact Studies, Sandmining

Reports and data on environmental research are available via these pages and will continue to be obtained and incorporated into the project, as will those on economic aspects.


A monthly Newsletter was published in the Maroota Living Heritage magazine and also emailed to a 50-strong list, between  February 2006 to December 2007. They are available via the Newsletter page.

Future research

Research is ongoing and all information will  be assembled for future research and educational use, in appropriate formats.

If you have any suggestions, information or images please contact us on 2archaeics@gmail.com