Produced by Heritage Victoria
Tribal Media Makers
From the interactive exhibition produced by Heritage Victoria Viewbank: Unearthing a Forgotten Colonial Homestead in Melbourne Suburbia.
Listen to Heritage Victoria’s Senior Archaeologist Jeremy Smith describe the archaeological excavation process and the dig at Viewbank Homestead.
JEREMY SMITH: If you think about it, archaeology is actually a very destructive process. You destroy things as you excavate them. And it's rarely possible to excavate a site more than once. And so the detail of recording is really essential. I think because of that, you tend to find that archaeologists record things in great detail, and they're very careful about the way sites are excavated.
At Viewbank, we established four 10 by 10-meter grids across the site. Basically, divided the site into four squares. And an archaeology team worked in each of those four squares, digging down through the stratigraphy, through the layers of history. Normally, you'd have one or two archaeologists working in each square, supervising a team of another eight or so people that might include some archaeology students, and also members of the general community.
We really didn't expect to find that the site would be as well preserved as it was. And we certainly didn't expect to find the old tip site, which contained literally thousands of artefacts relating to the period of the site's greatest significance. So they were great discoveries to make, and they were very exciting. There is something basic about the thrill in archaeology of digging down and finding some artefacts, or even finding the remains of the house, in quite good condition.
The other element that I really enjoyed about Viewbank was that teaching learning experience. A lot of students in archaeology have to travel overseas. They have to go to Egypt. Or they have to go to Greece, or the Middle East, to get opportunities to excavate. And so the experience of being there while people were often digging for the first time was a really pleasing one.
If the site's excavated properly, it should be possible to recreate the picture of what the house looked like at a certain time. Obviously, you find some features still in situ within the house. So marble fireplace fragments, the servant bells, other elements of the house that make sense when you see them archaeologically recorded. It's then possible to try to paint a more detailed picture of what the activities might have been that resulted in these artefacts being deposited within the record.