Historical Archaeology

From the late nineteenth century collectors, members of the Royal Society of Tasmania and interested bushwalkers explored for and documented archaeological sites in Tasmania. Archaeology as a modern discipline can however be considered to have started in Tasmania only in the early 1960s with the first systematic Aboriginal site surveys and excavations by Rhys Jones (University of Sydney). The first systematic historical archaeology was Judy Birmingham's (University of Sydney) research at Wybalenna (196979).

The focus of archaeology in Tasmania from these beginnings and through the 1970s was Aboriginal archaeology, but from the late 1970s historical archaeology became a key component of Tasmanian archaeology, and from the early 1990s has been at the fore, largely due to Tasmanian Aboriginal community concerns1 which have discouraged Aboriginal archaeological research. The four decades of Tasmanian archaeology has been primarily aimed at better understanding the human history of Tasmania and the physical evidence of this history, primarily for academic research and heritage conservation purposes. It has been undertaken by tertiary students, academics, public service archaeologists, consultant archaeologists, and interested members of the public.

Heritage conservation has been the driving force for much of the historical archaeology that has occurred in Tasmania. The Wybalenna research was initiated for heritage conservation, and subsequent excavations in the late 1970s at a number of early settlement/convict sites (for example Ross Bridge, Coal Mines, Darlington, Risdon Cove and Port Arthur) were also for heritage conservation purposes. Apart from the Ross Bridge excavation which was undertaken for the Ross Municipal Council, the first local Council to sponsor archaeological work in Tasmania,2 these excavations were undertaken for the Parks and Wildlife Service by consultant archaeologists.

Major heritage conservation-oriented archaeological projects also occurred in the 1980s, namely the Port Arthur Conservation Project (a major government sponsored research and conservation project which ran from 1981 to 1986), and excavations at other early colonial sites such as Sarah Island, and in Hobart at the Hunter Street Causeway, the Iceworks on Mount Wellington and the Queens and Alexander Batteries. Thematic site surveys also commenced in the 1980s, again mainly for heritage conservation. The earliest such study was the South-West Tasmania Resources Survey archaeological inventory project, but this was soon followed by a range of site survey and inventory projects including on the Tasman Peninsula and north of Macquarie Harbour, in the state forests, for mining sites and for urban industrial sites.

In the 1990s archaeological excavations continued and site surveys increased dramatically, all still primarily for heritage conservation reasons. The site surveys were mostly thematic regional or statewide studies covering a range of site types including convict, agricultural, forestry, mining, sealing and whaling. A combination of better information, revised planning schemes and the introduction of the Historical Cultural Heritage Act (1995) resulted in considerable archaeological excavation for development related assessment and salvage on a range of sites (primarily Hobart early settlement, industrial and residential sites), while changed funding priorities significantly reduced excavations at reserved historic sites. In the early 1990s local Councils also became players through undertaking municipal heritage studies which included archaeological sites. During the 1980s and 1990s Tasmanian archaeologists also had a major involvement in the Australian Antarctic and sub-Antarctic territories, carrying out archaeological research at Macquarie Island (administered by Tasmania), Heard Island and Commonwealth Bay in Antarctica.

Academic historical archaeological research in Tasmania has been extremely limited. Key studies have been the Wybalenna contact site (Sydney University), the Surrey Hills Van Diemen's Land Company sites and the Adventure Bay whaling site (LaTrobe University) and the Ross Female Factory (University of California). Public participation in historical archaeology in Tasmania has been noteworthy, largely through the activities of the Tasmanian Archaeological Society3 and to a lesser extent through public programs at sites (for example Port Arthur). The Tasmanian Archaeological Society, comprising a mixture of archaeologists and members of the public, has promoted historical archaeology and its management, and carried out an impressive program of site investigations, site surveys and field trips from its inception in 1975 to its demise in the early 1990s.

Further Reading; C Bird, Places of the Pioneers, Hobart, 1994; J Birmingham, Wybalenna, Sydney, 1992; J Birmingham & T Murray, Historical Archaeology in Australia, Canberra, 1987; S Brown, 'Tasmanian Prehistory', Tasforests 2, pp 3742, 1990; EC Casella, ' Tasmania, Australia', in CE Orser, (ed), Encyclopedia of Historical Archaeology, London, pp 538539, 2002; EC Casella, Archaeology of the Ross Female Factory, Launceston, 2002; G Connah, 'Of the hut I builded' The Archaeology of Australia's History, Cambridge, 1988; BJ Egloff, The Port Arthur Story, Hobart, 1986; H Gee & P Waterman, An Archaeological and Historical Perspective for SW Tasmania, Sandy Bay, 1981; R Langford, 'Our Heritage Your Playground',Australian Archaeology 16, pp 16, 1983; T Murray & J Allen, 'Theory and development of historical archaeology in Australia', Archaeology in Oceania 21, pp 8593, 1986; JStockton & A Lister, Towards a philosophy for public archaeology in Tasmania, Hobart, 1979; Tasmanian Archaeological Society Newsletter (series); Australian Journal of Historical Archaeology (series).

Anne McConnell

1 . Birmingham became involved after heritage conservation work by the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania) uncovered archaeological remains (see Birmingham 1992).
2. See for example Langford (1983).
3. See Stockton & Lister (1979).
4. The Tasmanian Archaeological Society involved itself with both Aboriginal and historical archaeology. Initially the focus was on Aboriginal archaeology, but from the early 1980s it also took a strong interest in historical archaeology.