What is archaeology

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What is historical archaeology?

Historical archaeology is the study of archaeological places associated with non-Aboriginal
settlement and activity in Victoria. The Heritage Act 1995 specifies that an archaeological
place or relic must be at least 50 years old.

An historical archaeological site may include above-ground features such as ruins and
below-ground features or deposits such as buried building foundations and objects.

Above-ground structures, such as old houses, bridges, fences and stone walls, may have
heritage value but in most cases are not considered to be archaeological sites. The
structure must have an archaeological component.

Why should we protect archaeological sites?

Historical archaeological sites provide a unique physical record of Victoria’s development,
and a context to the present. These sites are important because they increase our
understanding of the past and contain information that cannot be learned from other

How are archaeological sites and artefacts protected in Victoria?

All historical archaeological places and objects in Victoria are protected under the Heritage
Act 1995. Section 127 of the Act specifies that it is an offence to disturb an historical
archaeological site or relic unless approval has been given by the Executive Director of
Heritage Victoria. Heritage Victoria administers the Act, and maintains the Victorian
Heritage Inventory and Victorian Heritage Register.

The Heritage Act applies to all historical archaeological sites in the State. Sites that are
not known are also protected under the Heritage Act.

What are the Victorian Heritage Register and Victorian Heritage Inventory?

The Victorian Heritage Inventory is a list of all known historical archaeological sites and
artefacts in Victoria, regardless of its level of significance. Currently, over 7,000 historical
archaeological sites are on the Heritage Inventory. However, not all sites in the State
have been identified and recorded. Sites that are not known are also protected under the
Heritage Act.

The Heritage Inventory contains information about individual archaeological places
including a description of the site, place history, location details, and significance
assessment. The Inventory data is an important resource for developers, local government
authorities, government departments, private owners, archaeologists and researchers.

In cases where a place does not have physical evidence of archaeology but historical
documentation, images or maps indicate that a site previously existed, it may be listed for
its potential to contain buried artefacts and sub-surface features. This is called
archaeological potential. Places of archaeological potential are common in urban or
regional centres.

The Victorian Heritage Register is a list of non-Indigenous cultural places, objects and
collections that are significant to the State of Victoria. The Heritage Register includes
buildings, objects, collections, avenues of honour and landscapes. Currently there are
over 2,000 places and objects on the Heritage Register. Much of the information can be
viewed through the Victorian Heritage Database at

Are historical archaeological sites protected by other legislation?

There are a few other ways a site can also be protected in Victoria. Under the Planning
and Environment Act 1987, local councils can also protect archaeological sites which are
considered to be important to the local community. This is done through inclusion of the
sites in the Heritage Overlay under the Local Government Planning Scheme.

The Commonwealth Government maintains two lists for places considered to be of
significance to Australia. The National Heritage List is a register of places considered to
have outstanding historic, Aboriginal, and/or natural heritage values. The Commonwealth
Heritage List is a register of significant Commonwealth-owned places. Heritage places can
be on one or both lists. Places identified on these Lists are protected under the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which is administered by
the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts

How are Aboriginal archaeological sites protected?

The protection and management of non-historical archaeological sites and artefacts is
addressed under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, which is administered by Aboriginal
Affairs Victoria

Archaeological sites and artefacts that relate to contact and shared activity between
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, such as mission sites, are regarded as both
Aboriginal sites and historical archaeological sites and are protected by both the Heritage
Act and the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Do I need permission to disturb an historical archaeological site?

Yes. It is necessary to obtain the approval of the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria to
authorise the disturbance of any historical archaeological site. Consents to Excavate and
Consents to Damage can be given for sites listed on the Heritage Inventory, and Permits
are given for historical archaeological places on the Heritage Register. Applications for
consents and permits can be downloaded from the Heritage Victoria website, along with
the fee schedule.

 Who can conduct an

 Consents and permits for
 archaeological work, such
 as excavations, are only
 issued to qualified and
 appropriately experienced

 A directory of
 Consultants can be found
 on the Heritage Victoria

                                                                       Ann Jones Inn, Glenrowan

How do I know if a place may contain a historical archaeological site?

A preliminary, and quick, search can be conducted by anyone on the Victorian Heritage
Database on our website. Further information can be obtained from the Heritage Victoria’s
Archaeology Team at
If there is no known listed site, it is still important to do an initial investigation (desktop
study) as early as possible, to establish if a site has archaeological values or potential.
Some factors that may indicate the possible existence of archaeological remains include if
the place:
   •   contains ruins or scatters of historic objects;
   •   is within a known historic area, historic precinct or historic settlement;
   •   is near, or associated with, a known archaeological site
   •   is or was associated with a long occupation history ;
   •   has corresponding maps, historic sources or oral records indicating previous
   •   has had no known below-ground disturbance;
   •   has physical characteristics indicating below-ground features, such as shapes in
       the landscape or other formations; or
   •   contains remnant introduced vegetation, such as fruit trees.

If development or excavation activities are planned for a place, it is recommended that the
archaeological values and archaeological potential be assessed as early as possible to
avoid delays during works.

How can I conduct an investigation into the history of a place?

Historical research can be conducted through local resources such as the library, local
historical society and in some cases the internet. More detailed research should be carried
out by heritage professionals. In some cases it may be necessary for an archaeologist to
conduct a test excavation.

A directory of heritage and archaeological consultants can be obtained from the Heritage
Victoria website.

  Will the discovery of historical archaeological
  deposits or features prevent building or

  It is very rare for the discovery of historical
  archaeology to stop development taking place.

  If an archaeological site or artefacts are found on a
  building site it may be necessary for recording or
  monitoring to take place. For more complex sites, an
  archaeological excavation and detailed recording
  may be required.

  Any discoveries must be reported to Heritage
  Victoria, who will then advise on the next step.

Can I disturb or excavate a site that is on my land?

Under the terms of the Heritage Act it is an offence to disturb any historical archaeological
site unless approval is obtained from the Executive Director of Heritage Victoria,
regardless of the ownership of the land. Activities, such as digging for bottles, coins or
other artefacts, that involve the disturbance of archaeological sites is a breach of the
Heritage Act.

Can I remove objects from a site that I own?

Removing artefacts from an archaeological site without the consent of the Executive
Director of Heritage Victoria is also breach of the Act.

What happens to any artefacts found during an excavation?

Heritage Victoria has an Artefact Conservation Agreement System that requires the party
responsible for the disturbance and recovery of artefacts (owner or land manager) to
contribute towards the cost of conservation, management and storage. The amount of the
bond is determined by Heritage Victoria using a formula that assesses the level of
significance, size of the site and expected number of artefacts.

Payment of the bond is required prior to the start of works. Regardless of the significance
of the archaeological site or amount of artefacts recovered, only the specified amount of
the bond is required to be paid. If the artefacts do not require the full bond amount, the
remainder, less a 20% levy, is returned upon completion of the conservation program.

Who do I contact with further questions?

Heritage Victoria’s Archaeology Team can assist with any queries. The contact details are or 03 8644 8800.

Further information can be found on the Heritage Victoria website at

   Any personal information about you or a third party in your correspondence will be collected, held, managed, used,
   disclosed or transferred in accordance with the provisions of the Information Privacy Act 2000 (Vic) and applicable
   laws. Enquiries about access to information about you held by the Department should be directed to the Privacy
   Officer, Department of Planning and Community Development, PO Box 2392, Melbourne, VIC 3001.

   Notwithstanding the above, please note that information provided to enable the administration of the Heritage Act
   1995 may be disclosed to persons with an interest in the heritage place or object particularly, and information
   provided as part of a permit application may be made available on-line where the application has been publicly
   advertised under section 68 of the Heritage Act 1995.