Historical archaeology

Historical archaeology is the study of the past through archaeological evidence on or beneath the land or seabed. It relies heavily on historical records, such as maps, charts, photos, and diaries.

Historical archaeological sites tell the story of Australia since European contact.

Sites can exist in a variety of forms including:

  • buried foundations of 19th century houses
  • artefact scatters (such as bottles, clay pipes, old toys and buttons)
  • traces of the Gold Rush (such as mullock heaps and mine shafts)
  • lone graves and forgotten cemeteries
  • remnants of historic piers or slipways
  • shipwrecks

Known historical archaeological sites are included in the Heritage Inventory and protected under the Heritage Act 1995. In addition, the Act protects historical archaeological sites and artefacts which are not visible.

Images of archaeological sites (including shipwrecks) are available for viewing on Flickr.

Heritage Victoria manages a large collection of artefacts from land and seabed excavations. The collection is available for research, viewable online through the Victorian Archaeological Artefact Database (hosted by Museum Victoria), or by appointment. In addition, artefacts are available for loan to organisations for exhibitions, research, or educational projects. Contact Heritage Victoria for details at (03) 9415 4402.  You can also read about some Victorian shipwrecks and see the items found on board at the From the Deep: revelations of the Sea Exhibition at Google Cultural Institute.

The history of gold mining in Victoria - a comprehensive inventory of extant historic gold mining sites and historic gold mining plots in Victoria can now be found on Pandora.

Page last reviewed on 6 January 2017

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