Supernova Field Trip to Mannum & Ngaut Ngaut

January 2003

Recently the supernova planetarium group from the Adelaide Planetarium visited the region of Mannum and Nildottie in South Australia. Ngaut Ngaut is located between the towns of Mannum and Nildottie (which means “smoke signal hill”). It is an important site of astronomical, archaeological and anthropological heritage. In addition, it is of significant geological and palaeontologic interest. The group also visited and area known as Noa No to go fossil hunting in an area that was a shallow sea some 20-40 million years ago during the Miocene period.



Ngaut Ngaut is part of the Ngarrindjeri Nation. The Ngarrindjeri people consist of a number of territorial sub groups. The Ngarrindjeri Nation primarily occupies the region stretching along the Coorong in South Australia to along the Murray River to Blanchetown further north.



The people that occupy Ngaut Ngaut are known as the Nganguraku (sometimes also spelt Nganguruku) and they form part of the Ngarrindjeri Nation. Ngaut Ngaut was the site of Australia’s first archaeological excavation in 1927. Dating evidence taken from the remains of ancient campfires suggests that humans have occupied this area for at least 8,000 years. “…a great stimulus had been aroused by the discovery by members of the South Australian Museum of six metre deep occupational deposits in a rock shelter on the lower Murray River at a place earlier known as Devon Downs, but now officially to be known by its aboriginal name, Ngaut-ngaut.” (Tindale, 1986, 247)




The locality of the site suggests to me that the area would have been an exceptional site for a regular supply of food. Being located next to the Murray River would have meant a plentiful supply of fish and rock carvings show that estuarine dolphins once occupied the area. With an ample supply of water in the area meant that larger game like kangaroos and emu would come to drink suggesting to me that the region would have been prime hunting ground. This meant that the local people would have had a variety of food sources available to them other than fish. There is a great number of bird species in the area including Galahs, Sulphur Crested Cockatoo’s and a variety of mixed water birds. I also noticed what appeared to be a number of small hawks or kestrels but could not positively identify the species. 



  Indigenous guide 'Cess' explains some of the carvings at Ngaut Ngaut




European settlement has impacted lightly on this picturesque area. Standing on the top of the cliff there were a number of shacks in the distance and a variety of small houseboats. Every now and then a large tourist houseboat would leisurely float by.  Unfortunately, the custodians of this site have also had to resort to fencing in order to protect the carvings and artifacts from tourists, vandals and thieves.




The carvings that we were shown appear along a large section of cliff face composed of sedimentary rock. At the upper levels of the cliff there are many marine type fossils present. There is a boardwalk with steps that travels along the cliff and you notice a variety of what appear to be seashells. On closer inspection some of these objects are not seashells but a species of sea urchin named ‘Lovenia’. (Pellant, 1992, 11). The tops of the cliffs are covered in a thin layer of soil, which appears to be underlain with a layer of calcrete.



Sun petroglyph at Ngaut Ngaut, South Australia



The carvings at Ngaut Ngaut were of immense interest to me on a personal level and extremely important from historical, anthropological, astronomical and archaeological aspects. I had seen aboriginal artwork during a visit to the Northern Territory before and the petroglyphs are quite different at Ngaut Ngaut from those found in the northern parts of Australia.



          Some of the participants on the Ngaut Ngaut trip




The indigenous inhabitants of the area had carved animals, deities, people, the sun,  and according to our custodian guide a number of dots that were carved into the wall were cycles of the full moon. What was the reason for this? I would postulate that recording intervals between full moons would let them keep track of the seasons and the seasonal availability of certain foods. Overall the trip to Ngaut Ngaut and Noa No was of scientific interest and a great opportunity to get out with a group of people with enquiring minds.




Fossil hunting near Noa No South Australia



Discussing some of the geology in the area.



Geologist Miles Davies explains the geological history of the area to the group.








Last updated 24th January 2003