Archaeology of Melbourne

Published by: Sandra Di Francesco | 28-Jun-2016
Egypt, Greece and Rome are well known for their archaeology. Little do people realise just how much archaeology the city of Melbourne has. Melbourne has a unique archaeology to offer. "Victorians are unaware of the significance, "said Jeremy Smith senior archaeologist at Heritage Victoria the governing body of all heritage in Victoria. Along with archaeologists; Jim Wheeler, Andrew Prentice and Bianca Di Fazio he shared his insights into Melbourne archaeology.
There are 7000 archaeological sites in Victoria said Smith. There are 700 shipwrecks along the coast and 800 colonial sites just in the CBD alone. There is still a lot more to be discovered here according to Smith. There is important archaeology here; it's not all in Greece and Rome.

He said it may be a different type of it but it still exists and is important to learn about. It's the archaeology of the Indigenous people along with that of the colonial settlers.

Archaeology in Melbourne is booming because of development. Ironically Development drives archaeology according to Bianca Di Fazio from Heritage Insight.

Due to 2007 Victorian legislation, developers can't build on a site without an archaeological assessment said all four experts. "If the Grollos want to put up a building or VicRoads wants to build a road then they need to get an archaeologist," said Smith. Archaeology is now part of legislation.

Every Melbourne suburb has archaeology according to the experts. Growth areas like Wyndham and Frankston contain mostly indigenous remains said Andrew Prentice from Heritage Management advisors.

Indigenous finds are mostly of an organic nature since their culture was one based on nature said Prentice.

Most indigenous remains in Melbourne are stone tools, scar trees and shell middens. They date from 2000 to 5000 years ago. Stone tools are implements made of stone. They had a variety of uses from cutting meats and vegetables to carving and grinding said Prentice.

"Some people wouldn't know a stone tool if it hit them in the face." To the untrained eye it looks like a piece of plain stone.

Scar trees are trees that had a large part of their bark removed to be used for making canoes and other items said Prentice. When the bark was stripped it left a permanent scar on the tree. Many are found along the Merri Creek, Maribyrnong River and Yarra River.

Shell middens are places where the debris from eating shellfish and other food has accumulated over time. They are found mostly near the coast.

Prentice said Colonial Melbourne was built over indigenous Melbourne. Jim Wheeler from AHMS (Archaeology Heritage Management Services) said, ''probably if you dig under your house or mine you will found a stone artefact."

The colonial remains consist of items like ceramics, bottles, and glass. They also include old buildings like churches and walls. Di Fazio said if you dig in the terrace houses of Collingwood and Fitzroy you will find colonial remains.

''Even things that are more recent have a lot of meaning, especially if people find it themselves, said Di Fazio."

Looking for archaeological sites in Melbourne isn't just a matter of sticking a spade in the ground and discovering them. A lot of planning and research goes into it said Smith.

On top of this you need to get permission to conduct a dig. This often takes a while said Smith. Most times clients like developers and councils contact the archaeologists to investigate a site.

Some sites are clearly recognisable in the landscape with historical buildings like churches and houses said Smith. Standing structures like old walls also make up an archaeological site. Some sites are underneath high rise buildings said Wheeler.

Archaeology in Melbourne could be better promoted according to Di Fazio, Wheeler and Prentice. Wheeler said we should have a Time team Australia like Time Team Uk which is one of Britain's most watched shows. He said SBS and the ABC should be involved. He thinks it's the single best thing out there to promote archaeology.

Prentice said that "nobody has tried to sell archaeology in a time team way in Australia. "Australians are obsessed with reality TV and instant gratification." "Archaeology doesn't fit into this."

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