‘When were the Kariong engravings produced?’ has been the focus of nearly all the discussion about this site. Another question that asks something slightly different is ‘When were the glyphs found?’. Although it is most important to determine their actual date, we also need to know the date at which the glyphs were first brought to public attention. In 1983-4 a National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger apprehended a man at the site with a chisel, and freshly carved engravings was observed by a rock art conservation specialist. If we take that as the date of confirmed public discovery, when everyone in the pro- and con- camps agrees that they existed, how much further back can we push knowledge of them? This can lead to a better appreciation of when they were made and the way that dating evidence can be interpreted.
When were the glyphs found? And by whom? In this section I pull together the different claims made for people having known them some time before the NPWS became involved. Obviously the earlier it can be demonstrated that they were known about, the less it can be claimed as a modern hoax. However, there is still a big 4500 year gap that has to be filled before authenticity to be claimed. After considering claims that people have known about the glyphs for more than a century I will next look at the negative evidence, which asks who was in the right place and time to have seen the glyphs but didn’t. This is not certain in itself but complements the claims that follow so we can get a more robust answer to our question.
Claims for first discovery or knowledge
Bushwalkers – c.1900
Rex Gilroy says that round the beginning of last century ‘two bushwalkers chanced to enter a narrow cleft, formed by the splitting of a monolithic sandstone rock in ages past. Engraved upon the walls to their amazement , they found a mass of clearly recognisable Egyptian hieroglyphs’ [Gilroy 2000: 130]. As with almost all his evidence Gilroy gives no sources for his statements.
Returned servicemen – after 1918
It is occasionally claimed that the cutting of the glyphs is related to the construction of a small monumental copy of the Sphinx at Lady Davidson Hospital, in Sydney’s northern suburbs. this was erected by a returned serviceman in recognition of mates who had fallen in the AIF’s Middle Eastern campaign. Alternately it post-dates the Second World War, and reflects more Australian experience in North Africa and the Middle East.
Beyond the broad correlations of Egyptian service sounding plausible no one has come forward with any actual evidence in support of this claim.
Bob Cummins – 1955
According to a letter written by the late amateur Egyptologist, Ray Johnson to Gosford Council, a journalist called Bob Cummins had visited the site with his father. He remembered that the carvings were present but faint [see letter from Johnson to Gosford Council 21 July 1997, in Spillard 2010]. Von Senff [2011: 60] believes that as Cummins was a journalist, his statement should be considered reliable. However, note that Johnson was asking Cummins to remember something in c.1997 that happened perhaps 40 years ago. A reasonable question to ask would be what about the visit reminded Cummins that it was 1955 rather than, say, 1960 or 1965? Also von Senff says that we ‘ can also believe Ray Johnson, he was an international recognized Egyptologist, and would not have given knowingly a fictitious date.’
I will not go into the argument here about whether Ray Johnson was or was not ‘an internationally recognised expert’ in this post, beyond saying that this is very doubtful.
‘Families in the know’ – c. 1950s
Paul White [1996: 21] suggested that ‘families in the know’ from the local area visited the site in the 1950s. We do not know who was in the know, unless it was Bob Cummins and his father. Given the number of mistaken facts and interpretations made by White in his paper, I am not inclined to believe him to be an accurate source.
Naughty schoolboys – 1960s
Students from Gosford High School have been mentioned as either producing the engravings or re-carving them for believers in their authenticity.
Again from Steve Spillard’s comprehensive research on local knowledge of the glyphs:
‘On the Ancient Lost Treasures forum in 2004 a member ( Tom Walter ) contacted the Gosford History group and was told the carvings were done by a schoolboy in the 60’s , the Elvina group has recently contacted members of that group who verified the story again in 2010.‘ [Spillard 2010]
The accusation of high school students may also be a confusion with …
University of Sydney students – 1964, 1970s
These are claimed to have either created or re-carved the engravings at different times , eg White , von Senff [2011: 58-64].
Ray Johnson mentions Sydney University students re-carved the engravings in 1964. Von Senff has indicated that he that accepts this scenario, as it explains why Cummins in 1955 could say they were ‘very faint’, while they were very well defined in 1983.
It should be made clear that in 1964 the Sydney University Department of Archaeology taught classical [Greek, Roman] and Near Eastern archaeology, which had an emphasis on Cyrus and the Middle East. There was a single newly appointed lecturer in Prehistoric Anthropology, Richard Wright, who had commenced a few years previously. The number of students enrolled was very limited and ancient Egyptian archaeology was not part of their curriculum, and neither was there any teaching in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs or language. As a student within the Department from the late 1970s I never heard about any such activities taking place from either staff or former students.
White argues that in 1983 the site:
was reportedly studied by a Sydney University archaeological team, who packed up after six months convinced the site was an elaborate fraud … they destroyed their notes and still refuse any knowledge of it. [White 1996: 20]
This I find to be very interesting. I completed my degree at Sydney University at the end of 1982, so knew all staff members, all the postgraduates and just about every student majoring in archaeology. I can say categorically that nothing like what Paul White claimed would have been possible without becoming known. It is worth also mentioning that destroying notes would be considered completely unethical and unprofessional by any archaeologist.
Bushwalkers – pre-1970
Another possible clue to dating is given in the papers of Michael Terry, former explorer and secret visitor advocate during the 1960s and 70s, and also a Central Coast resident by this time. The National Library of Australia retains some of his correspondence, including several letters he received from the young Rex Gilroy, then operating his Natural History Museum at Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains. In his letters Gilroy passed on many claims about secret visitors to Terry. Just about all of them were unsourced and many came from visitors to his museum casually mentioning things Gilroy appears to have accepted uncritically.
In a letter to Terry dated 1 July 1970, Gilroy attached a two and a half page document headed ‘Evidence of Egyptian landings’, full of poorly described and unsourced claims of finds of Egyptian gold coins, weapons and so on that were to be included in future Terry articles. Gilroy wrote:
Add at Gosford , N.S.W. a bushwalker stumbled accidentally upon a series of Egyptian hieroglyphics inscribed upon a rock face in thick bush country. Nearby, on the Hawkesbury River, aborigines many ages past recorded in their rock art, the presence of a number of strange visitors to our continent, including Egyptians. [NLA 611-1-20, Gilroy to Terry 31.7.1970]
Gilroy presented a number of unconvincing ‘Egyptian’ and ‘Phoenician’ rock writings in the first edition of Mysterious Australia . None of these appear to match the specific location given by the bushwalker about the rock wall and series of hieroglyphs, which makes me strongly suspect that Gilroy was describing the Kariong site. It is also clear that Gilroy was never able to visit it. The first time the engravings appear in a Gilroy work is after Paul White’s 1996 article [Gilroy 2000]. He certainly did not mention it in any of his abundant writings about ancient Egyptians before Paul White’s article raised its profile and seems to have forgotten having been told about it by the time he wrote Pyramids in the Pacific.
Surveyor Alan Dash – c.1975
Steve Spillard interviewed Alan Dash, a surveyor with the Gosford City Council between 1968 and 1993, who first noticed the carvings in the mid 1970s. Thoroughly familiar with the area, Dash revisited the site several times over the next 5 years, each time observing that more and more carvings appeared on the rock face. He considered the engravings the work of an irresponsible vandal. Spillard summarised his interview with Dash on 16 October 2010 as follows:
Alan worked as a surveyor for Gosford Council for many years and I spoke to him recently , here for the first time we have an account from someone who witnessed the creation of the glyphs site over a couple of years in the 1970’s.
Alan first found the glyphs around 1975 ( he is unsure of exactly what year but said ” early 70’s ” ) , at the time he was surveying the water easement for Gosford Council and had to make a line to Lyre Trig. While working he noticed a chap emerge from a hole in the rock wall and walk over to the old Gilford house , this old home long abandoned had become the home of ‘derelicts’ Alan said. The Gilford home was built in the 1920’s and was the home of EF Gilford. Thinking that he may have been growing marijuana and curious, Alan went to have a look in the hole and found the carvings on the western wall in the cleft , the east wall was bare at this time.
Six months later he took a co worker into the cleft and found that the eastern wall was now completely covered in carvings as well.
About a year late he brang a group to the site and found a second lot of glyphs had been added some 50 metres from the cleft along the rock wall, these are much smaller and ‘rougher’ Alan describes. In 1979 the Gilford house was destroyed in the bush fires. [Spillard 2010]
Dash’s memories are the oldest securely dated mentions of the engravings and, interestingly, show that only those on the western wall were first present and the remainder on the eastern wall and elsewhere were added progressively in the late 1970s.
A woman met this lady who knew a bloke … – c. 1970s
Possibly related to a mid-1970s production or at least local knowledge is a recent claim is given in the Gosford Central Community News. While in hospital Yvette Pritchard of Woy Woy came to know a fellow patient, who told her about a local man living on Woy Woy Road. This man [and remember this is 3rd hand anecdote]
… was a very unusual and interesting man and that he was very interested in Egyptology, in fact he had been “obsessed” with the culture of Ancient Egypt. He had even tried to teach her “the Egyptian Alphabet”. He had never visited Egypt, or studied Egyptology formally, but had studied books on the subject, watched documentaries, etc. She said that he had a kind of “spiritual empathy” with their belief system. … I immediately told her about the engravings and she exclaimed something like “Oh, he would have been the one who did them for sure! That’s just the sort of thing he would have done”. She said that he would spend a lot of time in the bush which was “virtually his back yard”. He used to sketch the trees, and used to sit on the top of the rocks and “meditate” [Pritchard 2011].
Unfortunately, as Mrs Pritchard admits, she lost track of the local man, and was seeking any further information from other residents. From her account it is not at all certain whether he was the culprit, or even when his tree-sitting took place.
Confirmed public discovery – 1983-1984
NPWS staff became aware of the site in 1983. Dave Lambert, a geologist and specialist rock art conservator for the NPWS visited the site in 1983. He has published a number of works on the assessment and conservation of Aboriginal rock art, particularly in the sandstone of the Sydney Basin, eg. Lambert  and his observations on the condition of the site have to be considered authoritative. When Lambert inspected the engraving site there were a number of freshly cut glyphs. These stood out as almost white stone against the patinated surface stone, with spalling also evident along the cut lines being easily visible. Photos of some are shown here [scroll down for the Kariong hieroglyphs album].
Neil Martin, a NPWS Ranger attached to their Gosford Office was doing some fire management nearby and apprehended a man at the site.
In 1984 1 was in the area helping to put out a fire … As I came around the base of the hill, I could hear a noise like someone chipping stone. I walked over to the cleft and found an old Yugoslavian man, chipping the stone with a Sidchrome cold chisel. Because this was national park property, I confiscated the chisel and the man left. Because he was mentally handicapped, we took no further action, but I later gave the chisel to the local historical society. We never saw the old man again. [Coltheart 2003]
An article about the site in a Central coast newspaper also appeared at the time, according to Spillard’s timeline, but it remained only a locally known issue [Spillard 2010].
Publication to a professional audience – 1988
Graeme Walsh produced a major work on the diversity of Australian Aboriginal rock art in 1988. Towards the end he included a small section on forgeries, and in here mentioned the Kariong engravings. This was their first appearance in print outside the local area, and he made an eerily accurate prediction of their future.
An engraved gallery with a difference had been created in a rugged area of bushland in suburbia of th e north Sydney basin. A passage leads beneath a sandstone outcrop to a concealed roofless 1500mm wide corridor. This ascends a slope for 15m to a monumental balancing stone beam. The 5m high vertical sandstone corridor walls are decorated with hundreds of forged Egyptian hieroglyphics. Motifs have been deeply and precisely cut into the rock with thin abraded lines. This creation has required an immense amount of time and demanding work.
The site was discovered in 1983, and is believed to have been completed shortly before. Already the regrowth of moss over the obviously recent engraved surface is creating a certain air of mysticism. When “rediscovered” in the future, this incredible forgery will undoubtedly attract the wildest speculation. [Walsh 1988: pp. 264-265]
While Walsh’s book was aimed at a broad readership rather than a professional audience, it was an expensive work and readership was necessarily limited. Second-hand copies sell for upto two thousand dollars, so it is likely that it had little impact on public awareness.
Popular publication – 1996
The first publication that would have brought attention to the site was by Paul White, writing in Exposure magazine in 1996. Before this appeared the site was only of very local awareness. Exposure’s Australia-wide and international readership, allied with the rise of the Internet ensured that it attracted many people’s attention, and from that date on a significant number of people began to make the trek to the site and to upload photos. Packaged up with a smattering of other Australian-Egyptian links that had been put forward by Gilroy and Terry, it mixed photos of the site with the Giza precinct and the Rosetta Stone. there were lots of mentions of researchers, and getting in touch with univeristies and museums, but very little that was solid fact. Ray Johnson, the amateur Egyptologist, was asked to translate text copied from the site, and this brought in for the first time the myth that as these are Early Dynastic Egyptian hieroglyphs almost no one in the world, barring a few experts, could read them [White 1996: 21].
White’s description is full of errors, many of which continue to be repeated by others. He says that it was a man searching for a lost dog in the early 1980s that led to their rediscovery. His own visits commenced in 1993. As a film-maker, White also included the site as part of a documentary series – Ancient secrets. Part 4 – the Egyptian connection, which is now available on YouTube [White 1994]. While copyright is 1994, the actual release date is not known. It was sold in video-cassette format in advertisements in the back of nmagazines like Exposure and New Dawn. Circulation of the movie can be assumed to have been fairly limited.
The word spreads on the Internet – 1998
The oldest site that I can find discussing the Kariong engravings is a personal site put up by a Sydney musician, Adrian Keating in 1998 [Keating 1998]. Although he has since accepted that these sites are forgeries he has maintained the original site as an archival resource. The site itself is well set out, with links to a range of sites and a transcript of White’s article. Although some of the links are now dead it still continues to attract fresh visitors.
The earliest discussion group mention that I can find dates to very shortly after Keating published his site. Two sites began to discuss Egyptians in Australia with a link back to Keating’s site within months of it appearing – Usenet Sci.Archaeology Forum on 22 March 1998 and the Yahoo Epigraphy Forum on 5 July 1998.
Shortly afterwards other discussion groups picked up the story, new sites popped up after people were encouraged to visit, or research the site, and
That is what has been said about the first discovery or knowledge of the existence of the Kariong hieroglyphs. But what about negative evidence – in this case where their existence should have been known and mentioned but was not?
An example is Rex Gilroy’s omission of them in the first edition of his Mysterious Australia . Although he would later imply that he had known about them all along and had, in fact, probably been told about them by 1970, he never tracked them down until about four years after Paul White’s article.
Arthur Vogan – late 19th century
Perhaps the most convincing piece of negative evidence concerns secret visitor advocate Arthur J. Vogan. He became interested in Aboriginal rock art around Sydney and devoted considerable attention to it. At some point [he gives inconsistent dates exactly when], he visited the ‘rabbit’ site recorded by Campbell , a bit further south of the Kariong site, perhaps as early as 1887 [Footnote 1]. This, among other things, convinced him that he had found evidence of the migration of an Asiatic people some thousands of years ago down the Australian coast, and that the figures, which he refers to as hares, represented a moon or fertility cult. As an idea it was basically similar to those of some speculators on the population of the Pacific, particularly W.J. Perry, with whom Vogan would later correspond.
In the 1930s Vogan wished to revisit the site but had forgotten exactly where it was. He advertised in the local Woy Woy newspaper for anyone who could tell him about these sites which showed ancient contact. A man called L.H. Garrett eventually came forward and showed him the ‘rabbit’ site. Considering that Vogan placed an advertisement in the local newspaper for Kariong , offered a reward [this is during the Great Depression] and specifically asked for information about unusual rock engravings in the Kariong area, the results are revealing. The only unusual engravings brought to his attention from the area within which the Kariong engravings are located was the ‘rabbits’. No mention was made by anyone of any others. Vogan spent a lot of time in the 1930s agitating Woy Woy Council to protect and interpret engravings [Vogan 1887-1948].
In all of Vogan’s voluminous writings [30 boxes in the Mitchell Library] he makes no mention of the Kariong Egyptian engravings despite having done fieldwork in the area and posted a public reward for information on unusual engravings.
The Gilfords – 1930s onwards
Steve Spillard notes that despite the current rhetoric about the ‘remote’ bushland setting, until the 1950s the site was within 100 metres of an occupied farmhouse, the home of E.F. Gilford. Gilford was an enthusiast about Aboriginal engravings and recorded as many as he could in the surrounding area . The farmhouse was destroyed in 1979, but its clearing remains readily visible from the ground. During the 1930s Gilford had even written a newspaper article about the engravings in his area. No mention was made of anything unusual or anomalous [Spillard 2010].
Archaeologists – 1890s to 1980s
The Kariong Plateau attracted the attention of both professional and amateur rock art recording enthusiasts due to the concentration of engravings and the relative lack of development of the area until recent times. Setting aside any early visits from Arthur Vogan, the area attracted systematic interest from a number of recorders, beginning with W.D. Campbell. He was commissioned by the Dept of Mines to undertake a recording exercise on Aboriginal engravings around Sydney and the Kariong plateau / Staple Lookout area became one of his key areas. Despite identifying and recording most of the engravings in the area, which would have entailed systematic searching of the area Campbell found no evidence referrable to the glyphs [Campbell 1899].
Over time many of the big names in recording of Aboriginal rock art in Sydney have spent considerable time clambering all over rock surfaces in the Kariong area in search of new engravings. These include, before and after the Second World War, Frederick McCarthy of the Australian Museum, although often in his capacity as a member of the Anthropological Society of NSW. McCarthy’s compendia of engravings published intermittently in the journal Mankind supplements Campbell’s study. Other art recorders who have worked at Kariong, often employing night recording techniques to pick up even the faintest engravings, include John Lough, now deceased, and Ian Sim. Lough never reported any knowledge of the Kariong site. In a statement to me, Sim also said he only became aware of the site following the 1983-4 NPWS awareness of the site, when he was a senior member of staff.
I can also report from my own experience undertaking a 3rd year honours archaeology exercise where my fellow students and I had to survey an area starting at Staples Lookout in 1981 and working outwards to identify and record all Aboriginal sites we encountered. I am not sure that we ventured as far north as the Kariong site, but none of our teachers mentioned it. In early 1983 I took part in several archaeological surveys examining the areas off Woy Woy Road that were being subdivided for development. Again no awareness of the site was raised.
The observations and negative evidence strongly suggest that carving the glyphs began some time in the 1960s, making the site about 50 years old at most.
The nearby residence of the Gilford family and the frequent presence of rock art recorders in that area who were systematically exploring rock surfaces for nearly a century effectively excludes the possibility that the Kariong engravings existed long before they were first reported in 1970 to Rex Gilroy by an unnamed bushwalker. Since that time they have been added to, probably by several different people, with the glyphs by 1975 still only occupying one face of the cleft.
There is no evidence to support the involvement of University of Sydney students in the creation, recarving, concealment or anything else to do with the glyphs. Such claims are completely contrary to what I know of as a member of that group. Neither is it feasible to believe that the engravings were present but were completely missed by a succession of rock art recorders, who were expressly undertaking systematic coverage of the area in search of rock engravings. To claim that Campbell was unlucky is one thing, but Campbell, Vogan, McCarthy, Sim, Lough, Clegg and various professional academic and consulting archaeologists all missing the evidence over the course of a century does not convince at all. Neither does the presence of the Gilford family almost right next door, nor Vogan’s advertising and caling for strange engravings suggest that they were kept under wraps.
Until late 1983 the existence of the glyphs was essentially known by a handful of people. It was only the NPWS activity on the site that firstly made them ‘public’ but this was not effectively promoted to a wider audience until Paul White’s article in February 1996. Within two years it had reached the internet and the constant repetition of text and images had begun.
The analysis above gives us a high level of comfort that the site was created in the mid-late 1960s, and even variance of a decade is not supported well by the evidence. The first person who found the site – the unnamed bushwalker in 1970 – appears to have found it very soon after its creation, and well before the final engravings were added to it.
The impliction of a 1960s date are obvious. So to is the idea that there may not be a coherent story but a palimpsest of different bits of story, or even random words, that are being woven together by overly optimistic translation into a single narrative.
1. A photo of the ‘rabbit’ engravings taken by Vogan and held in the Royal Anthropological Insititute, London says on the back that he found the engravings in the company of Rev. Julian Tenison-Woods, the geologist and natural scientist in 1887. Tenison-Woods arrived in Sydney in 1887 and died in 1889 [RAI Photo 37198]. Elsehwere he cites different dates, and the inconsistency between these has not been resolved as yet.
Disclaimer of conflict of interest
I think its appropriate for transparency to note that I worked for the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service [NPWS] as their Historical Archaeologist from 1987 to 2000. During that time I had a number of dealings with the Gosford NPWS office who manage Brisbane Waters National Park, mainly on the conservation of the Old Great North Road and its eventual inclusion as part of the Convict Heritage entry of the World Heritage List. Although I know many of the current and former NPWS staff who are mentioned in discussions of the Kariong engravings I never worked on or was asked to work on the site or its management issues. Given that, I do not think there is any conflict of interest between my former work and current research interest.
Campbell, W.D. 1899
Aboriginal carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay, NSW Department of Mines and Agriculture, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of NSW, Ethnological Series no. 1., Sydney.
Coltheart, David 2003
‘Debunking the Gosford glyphs’, Archaeological diggings, Vol. 10, no. 5. Available here
Gilroy, Rex 1995
Mysterious Australia, Nexus Publishing, Mapleton, 1st edition.
Gilroy, Rex 2000
Pyramids in the Pacific, URU Publications, Katoomba.
Keating, Adrian 1998
‘Egyptian relics in Australia?’, Classic Blue [website], posted 1998. Available here.
Lambert, Dave 1989
Conserving Australian rock art: a manual for site managers, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra
Pritchard, Yvette 2011
‘Hieroglyphs may be fake’, Gosford Central Community News, No. 23, 11 December 2011, p. 4. Available here.
Spillard, Steve 2010
‘Gosford glyphs 2010 update’, All things Woy [blog], posted 16 April 2010. Accessible here.
‘Egyptian hieroglyphs found in Australia?‘ [discussion thread], Sci.Archaeology, 23 March 1998. Available here.
Von Senff, Hans-Dieter 2011
Ancient Egyptians in Australia; The Kariong glyphs, a Proto-Egyptian script deciphered; Research results, Sumptibus Publications, Swansea. Available here.
White, Paul [director] 1994
Ancient Secrets Part 4. the Egyptian connection [documentary – 25 mins 33 sec], Cosmic Capers Pty Ltd, issued through Network 23. Available here.
White, Paul 1996
‘The Oz-Egyptian enigma’, Exposure, vol. 2 no. 6, pp. 20-27.Available here.
Yahoo Epigraphy Forum 1998
‘Dating the Aussie glyphs’, [discussion thread], Yahoo Epigraphy Forum, 14 July 1998. Available here.
Michael Terry Papers – correspondence
National Library of Australia, Canberra – Series 611-1.
Mitchell Library, Sydney = Accession no. ML 182 / 87, Boxes 1 – 28 .
Royal Anthropological Institute, London. Accession nos – RAI Photo nos 37198 – 37205.