Melbourne Archaeology

Melbourne archaeology

Egypt, Greece and Rome are well-known for their archaeology. Little do people realise just how much archaeology the city of Melbourne also has. Infact it is a bit of a mystery. 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 fellow archaeologists Jim Wheeler, Andrew Prentice and Bianca Di Fazio he shared his insights into Melbourne archaeology.

Smith said there are 7000 archaeological sites in Victoria . 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. The Victorian Gold Rush archaeology is the best preserved in the world according to Smith.  If you go up to Bendigo and Castlemaine you can still see the original miner’s huts and their gold pans said Smith. Whilst in California it has been heavily developed so not much trace of it remains.

Shipwreck Coast taken from ninemsn

Colonial Man taken from Australian Government website

Aboriginal Men and Colonial ship taken from Wikipedia

Colonial house taken from

Miners taken from nationsonline

Archaeology in Melbourne is booming because of development. Ironically Development drives archaeology according to Bianca Di Fazio from Heritage Insight. She said, “Development is the bread and butter of our business.” It is a great paradox that the developer’s cranes with their destructive powers are helping this industry to thrive. Due to 2007 Victorian legislation bought in 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 and is also another aspect of planning like environmental issues he said.

Building site in Melbourne from Wikipedia

Grocon signage taken from abc news

Great Ocean road taken from wikipedia

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. Prentice has done much work in Frankston and has uncovered many shell middens. Shell middens are the leftover discarded shells of the Indigenous meals and are always found close to creeks, marshes, swamps and elevated areas near the ocean. They provide details on diet. Indigenous finds are mostly of an organic nature since their culture was one based on nature said Prentice.

Shell midden taken from Australian National university project

Coastal area taken from

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.

Scar tree taken from Goulburn Murray museum

Stone tools taken from Natural history museum

Sketch of scar tree taken from creative spirits

Earlier this year Prentice worked on a dig in Coburg North.  He found many stone tools. It  was  an area of multiple dwellings and was within 200 metres of a creek.  A representative of the Wurundjeri association  watched over the dig said Prentice. “You can’t put a spade in the ground without their presence.” It’s the law. The Wurundjeri are the traditional owners of much of Melbourne except the coast.

Signboard with Wurundjeri acknowledgment taken from weekend notes

Early colonial picture of Wurundjeri taken from my place for teachers

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.” Just last year Di Fazio and her team found 6000 stone tools lying in a Werribee paddock. They date between 2000 and 5000 years. This puts them in the age of many of the Egyptian pyramids.

Watercolour showing the displacement of Wurundjeri taken from National museum of Australia

Colonial Elizabeth street, Melbourne taken from Colonial Weighing

open paddock at Werribee taken from Urban Birder

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.  There are digs started this year in the backyards of some houses of Kew and Hawthorn said Smith. It is hoped that they will reveal colonial life in this end of town.

Tea Cup - Whiteware, Blue transfer-printed, Classical Scene, Copeland, England, Stoke-on-Trent,1847-1867 (Fragment, Flawed)

Ceramic tea cup excavated in Melbourne taken from Melbourne Museum


Bottle excavated in Melbourne, taken from Melbourne Museum

Gin bottle glass sherd excavated in Melbourne taken from Melbourne Museum

St James Catherdral taken from Wikipedia

Old wall in Melbourne taken from Tom Civil

An ongoing colonial archaeological dig has been the excavation and restoration of Stamford Park Homestead in Rowville. Di Fazio and her team are involved. This is a homestead of the 1880’s that occupies an area a bit smaller than Como House she said. Stamford originally belonged to the Row family, a famous horse racing family in which Rowville is named after.  Stamford has many layers of history with the different owners. It is not in ruins but there is a lot of work to be done to restore it said Di Fazio. She said the aim is to get it like Como house.

Stamford Park Homestead taken from Rowille- Lysterfield news

Knox City Council owns Stamford and runs tours there. Di Fazio hopes to run a large scale dig there this September and get volunteers from the public. Last year she did this over a weekend and saw a good response with forty volunteers from the public coming on board. They participated in the digging and recovery of the finds.  A whole range of artefacts were uncovered like ceramics, horseshoes and racing medallions of various racing families of Melbourne.

Such everyday objects provide intimate details into this era said Di Fazio. She said ‘’ Even things that are more recent have a lot of meaning, especially if people find it themselves.” Getting the community involved is something that Di Fazio strongly believes in. She said that in this way people come to understand and appreciate history. She said “people want to engage with history.”

We see that 133 years after his death Ned Kelly, Australia’s most famous bushranger has many people engaged with his history. The discovery of his bones at Pentridge prison in 2012 generated a worldwide media frenzy which saw his story be the biggest one in the press for a day said Smith. Large numbers of executed criminals were moved from Melbourne Goal to Pentridge in 1929 and 1937. It was due to limited space at the old Goal. Historical documents were found about the Pentridge burials. This led Smith and his team of archaeologists to look for Kelly. His remains were given back to Kelly’s family members. He was reburied early this year in the Victorian town of Greta.

Ned Kelly picture taken from webwombat

Ned Kelly coffin taken from

Ned Kelly skeleton taken from Australian Geographic

Pentridge Prison image taken from

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 can often take a while said Smith. He said for instance the Kelly dig in all was a ten year project.  Most times clients like developers and councils contact the archaeologists to investigate a site.

Archaeological dig site taken from dig international

Moreland City Council logo taken from LGjobs

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. Indigenous sites can be recognised from distinct features in the landscape like scar trees. Wheeler added that it is known that Indigenous people lived near water sources so we can predict for sites near such sources.

Melbourne Grammar school church taken from blogspot

Labassa mansion taken from white hat

Old wall taken from see- through property services


Archaeology in Melbourne could be promoted better 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. Di Fazio said that the key is to get people involved like the way it was done at Stamford. This way it creates more value.

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.” He added that Australians don’t have the same interest in their history like Europeans. Compared to previously all experts agreed that archaeology is more well-known. There is now about fifty archaeology companies in Melbourne compared to just four when Smith started working fifteen years ago. Wheeler said that many graduates in archaeology get jobs straight after university. Furthermore he said that it is a good career with a decent salary.

Archaeologists at dig taken from WordPress


Hollywood could very well make a fourth Indiana Jones film in Melbourne. Perhaps they could have Indy roaming around the Queen Victoria Market which contains thousands of human remains. They could have him fight the bad guys and go on all sorts of adventures there. The market stands on top of  a cemetery said Prentice.






Extra Info;

 National Archaeology week held every year in Australia;    and

Archaeologists ;

Jeremy Smith from Heritage Victoria; .

Andrew Prentice from Heritage Management advisors; at

Andrew Wheeler from

Bianca Di Fazio from

For tours to Stamford Park Homestead visit  Knox Council website

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