What is Historical Archaeology?

Historical archaeology is the study of the recent past and usually deals with the archaeology of European societies since the 15th century. In Australia this means it focusses most closely on the last 200 years of European settlement.



Historical archaeologists use archival and other documents (such as diaries, letters, maps, plans, photographs and official records), oral history interviews and archaeological methods to reconstruct what life was like for the many different groups of people who settled Australia.  ‘Contact’ sites (places where Indigenous and non-Indigenous activities overlap, such as missions or station camps) are often deemed to be historical sites because they fall within the colonial time period.

The main types of historical archaeological site often reflect the different kinds of industries which have been established, such as mining, pastoralism, agriculture, commerce, whaling, or timber-getting.  Ordinary domestic sites and other facets of past human behaviour, such as houses, schools, hospitals or cemeteries, are equally valuable, because they have the potential to tell us about the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Click here to see footage of an historical archaeological
excavation at 188 Gilles St, Adelaide

Dedicated topics in historical archaeology at Flinders include:
ARCH2203: Australian Historical Artefacts;
ARCH3207: Frameworks in Historical Archaeology;
ARCH3209: Modern Material Culture;
ARCH3308: Historical Archaeology Field School;
ARCH8401: Historical Artefact Analysis; and
ARCH8806: Historical Archaeology Field School.

For more information about studying historical archaeology at Flinders please contact the lecturer in charge, Dr Heather Burke.

Current Projects

Willow Court Project. The archaeology of the Royal Derwent Hospital and its oldest building - Willow Court - is the story of over 170 years of the treatment of mental illness in the town of New Norfolk, Tasmania.

Archaeological Traces of the Seven Stars Hotel, Mallala. Built in 1865, the Seven Stars Hotel was the first hotel in the vicinity of Redbanks township.  In 2012 undergraduate and graduate students mapped, recorded and excavated the site to recover thousands of artefacts and try to identify the location of the original buildings.

In search of the stables at MacKillop Memorial Park, Penola.  In 2011 and 2012 students from Flinders excavated the site of the 1866 stables building used as one of the first Catholic schools by Australia's first saint: Mary MacKillop.

Past Projects

Myth, Memory and Material Culture: The Archaeology of the Repat Air Raid Shelters
In 2004 staff and students at Flinders University began an ongoing investigation of the air raid shelters built at the Repatriation Hospital at Daw Park during World War II.

Brighton Smugglers Tunnel

The Archaeology of Vehicle and Machinery Assemblages Associated with Rural Farm Properties

The History and Archaeology of the Maesbury Street Cemetery, Kensington