THE riches of the Hunter Valley made the region a drawcard for European settlement, but for many thousands of years before their arrival the land had already provided prosperity for Aboriginal people.
Evidence of that habitation is being dug up by the tonne as the construction of the Hunter Expressway advances its 40-kilometre route through the heart of the Hunter Valley.
Thousands of items of Aboriginal significance have been found by workers who are uncovering archaeological treasures.
Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) believes the $1.7billion project has one of Australia’s largest, subsurface archaeological investigations.
Project environmental manager Dave Ledlin said finds included grinding grooves, created when tools were shaped or sharpened on rock, ceremonial sites, scarred trees and hammer stones and axes.
‘‘The scale of archaeological investigations and salvage work associated with the Hunter Expressway means it can provide some useful information about Aboriginal traditions in the area,’’ Mr Ledlin said.
One of the richer sites is Black Creek, near Branxton.
Seven Aboriginal organisations, including three land councils, are working on the project and negotiating a system of offsets to help compensate for damage.
Wonnarua Nation Aboriginal Corporation chief executive office Laurie Perry said one possible part of the offset plan was a cultural centre near Greta where some of the found items could be housed and displayed.
Mr Ledlin said options included training courses and scholarships.
‘‘With the help of the local Aboriginal community, RMS has made a big effort to understand the areas we are impacting upon and to manage them in the best possible way,” Mr Ledlin said.
Some sites are protected by permanent fencing. Where cultural objects can’t be avoided they will be protected with a layer of special fabric and buried in the finished road, Mr Ledlin said.