Archaeological Melbourne Tour

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EXPLORE the ‘Little Lon’ and surrounding precinct in Melbourne’s CBD where five of Australia’s major urban archaeological digs have formerly taken place including Casselden Place, Wesley Place and Bennets Lane.
VIEW and handle archaeological artefacts.
DISCOVER what archaeological and heritage investigations revealed about the lifestyle of early Melbourne residents from the 1850s-1930s and their lessons for today.
VISIT heritage sites of pubs, missions, brothels, schools, factories, Chinese cabinet makers and characters who occupied them such as Madam Brussells, John Maloney, Mary MacKillop and Chong Cheok Hong.
LEARN the fascinating story of the buried blocks or “Melbourne’s Pompeii’.
VISIT an Indigenous scar tree site in the CBD and learn about the range of indigenous archaeological sites of Australia’s pre-history.
YOUR guide, Meyer Eidelson,  is the author of The Melbourne Dreaming. A Guide to Important Places Past and Present’ produced by Aboriginal Studies Press. During the Little Lon Dig 2002 he was employed by the Melbourne Museum to run guided tours to the Casselden Place excavation site.


EXPLORE the Pre-history archaeological setting of magnificent Half Moon Bay at Half Moon Bay, Black Rock half an hour south of Melbourne CBD. |
LEARN about archaeological sites such as, freshwater wells, ochre, stone, shell middens, fossils, lookouts and stone tool ‘knapping’. Learn about technologies of survival including fauna and flora used for food, tools and medicine in the pre-history seasonal calendar.


The Casselden Place Archaeological Dig of 2002:
‘In 2002, digging commenced to expose the secrets of Casselden Place, part of the city block bordered by Lonsdale, Exhibition, Little Lonsdale and Spring Streets. Industry Superannuation Property Trust, the owners of the site, sponsored the project. The project was managed by Heritage Victoria. On-site archaeolgy was co-ordinated by Godden Mackay Logan and Austral Archaeology to a research design provided by La Trobe University Archaeology Program. Though covering a smaller area than that excavated in 1988, the size of the fieldwork team and the detail in which excavation work was conducted made the Casselden Place dig the largest archaeological project ever undertaken in Victoria. Over 135,000 artefacts were uncovered over a 12 week period. These artefacts were initially stored at La Trobe University, where several reports about each type of object – clay pipes, buttons, bones, etc. – were written. The majority of artefacts uncovered were later transferred to Museum Victoria, where analysis is ongoing.

A selection are held by Industry Superannuation Property Trust, and are displayed in the foyer of its new building in Little Lon. Analysis of these artefacts and subsequent historical research have enabled us to challenge the ’slum’ stereotype that typifies Little Lon. The story we can now show is that under adverse conditions, individuals and families managed to make homes, raise children, and establish businesses’. (Museum Victoria).

“Archaeological sites in Melbourne provide evidence of life in the region over the last 50 000 years, from the time of the earliest Aboriginal peoples, through the period of European contact, to inner-city working-class neighbourhoods as well as farms on the expanding suburban fringe. Some archaeological sites are buried and require excavation to recover the information they hold, while others include artefacts or structures visible on the ground surface which can be recorded by surveying. Most excavations within Melbourne are carried out for salvage purposes, when earlier sites are located during the construction of new buildings. Information from archaeological sites is first-hand evidence of the activities of people who have not left written records to tell their stories, and provides perspectives that are unobtainable from other sources.

The oldest archaeological site in the greater Melbourne area, and one of the most important, is at Keilor on the Maribyrnong River. A human skull discovered there in 1940 was later found to be around 13 000 years old, older than any other human remains found in Australia up to that time, and the find attracted worldwide attention. After small excavations in the 1960s and 1970s, in 1977 archaeologists from La Trobe University and the Victoria Archaeological Survey (VAS) began an excavation that continued for five years. The excavations found a sequence of stone tools and butchered animal bone buried beneath up to 5 m of silt washed in by floods over a period of 50 000 years. When the site was first inhabited by Aboriginal peoples, the region was still home to Tasmanian tigers (Thylacine) and to species of giant kangaroo and wombat, all of which are now extinct, although their bones have been found at the site. There were four major layers of deposited soils within the site, and artefacts were found in all of them, but most of the artefacts were found in the upper layer of the site and were less than 6000 years old. Many were also found in the same layer as two ancient campfires which have been carbon-dated to approximately 13 300 years old.

Other sites were used more recently by the Kulin people, the Aboriginal people in the Melbourne region. Brimbank Park, a few kilometres downstream of Keilor in the Maribyrnong River valley, has within its boundaries several archaeological sites, including quarries where stone for stone tools was mined, burial sites, and scatters of stone tools. As a result of the discovery of the burial site in 1965, the State Government acquired the site, which is now known as Kulin Wetlands. Some of these sites are approximately 17 000 years old.

Several large earth rings at Sunbury were also used by Aboriginal people, probably as places to hold ceremonies. The rings are low mounds of earth, less than half a metre high, that enclose circular spaces between 15 and 25 m in diameter. Similar structures, known as Bora grounds, were commonly used by Aboriginal people in Queensland and New South Wales but are rare in Victoria. Scarred trees, where the Kulin people used stone tools to remove bark for use in shelters, canoes, containers and shields, can still be seen in many places, including Fitzroy Gardens, Heide Museum of Modern Art and Brimbank Park. Shell middens – piles of discarded shell, charcoal, chipped stone and animal bones – once lined the edge of Port Phillip Bay. Traces of them remain on some suburban beaches. Many other places in Melbourne were and continue to be significant to the Kulin people, including the former Coranderrk mission at Healesville, the former Native Police Camps at Dandenong and Dights Falls, the Bolin Bolin Billabong meeting place in Bulleen, and corroboree trees in St Kilda and Burnley Park. No archaeological excavations have been carried out at these places.

Within Melbourne City, salvage excavations have taken place on sites at 300 Queen Street, on Little Lonsdale Street in the working-class neighbourhood of ‘Little Lon’, and at Cohen Place in Chinatown. The Queen Street site was once a private house, built in 1849 and occupied by an early mayor, John Thomas Smith. From the 1860s the building was used as offices. Archaeologists excavated a cistern behind the house which was filled with rubbish, first from Smith’s household and later from the offices. Smith’s rubbish was that of a middle-class household. It included toys, clay pipes, medicine and perfume bottles, and food and dishes used at family meals and when entertaining: expensive tableware, relish bottles, and seeds from peaches, plums, grapes, and other fruits. The office workers, in contrast, threw out cheaper cups and saucers used during their tea breaks, empty pickle and salad oil bottles from their lunches, and countless empty ink bottles.

In contrast to the lives of the middle-class people at Queen Street, the Little Lon site reveals the lives of people in a poor, ethnically diverse neighbourhood. There too, however, decorative crockery was used and children’s toys were found. At Cohen Place, Chinese families were using new English crockery as well as dishes and foodstuffs imported directly from China. All three sites encapsulate changes to the Central Business District in the 19th century, as homes gave way to commercial premises and as inner-city neighbourhoods were characterised as slums and subsequently targeted for destruction“…… More

From eMelbourne. The city past and present

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