One million motifs: Metro’s archaeological progress

As Metro Tunnel work progresses in the city, so does the state’s biggest ever archaeological investigation and its catalogue of discoveries.

CBD excavation director Paul Pepdjonovic said about one million artefacts were expected to be discovered over the entire project.

“We’re pretty close to that, we’re at 800,000 and counting,” he said.

The two CBD stations, State Library Station and Town Hall Station, were broken into nine and six archaeological sites respectively.

Mr Pepdjonovic said the sites were unique because of the number of different histories coexisting within them – commercial, industrial, residential and cultural. 

“Usually one site has a very specific history. I think it’s a very unique chance for us archaeologists to look at such a large area in one go and compare and contrast,” he said.

“Usually you have one commercial property and it just has that one context. Here there is a variety and the way they interact is so interesting.”

As the investigation digs down through different layers, the different uses of the site become apparent.

For example, one level at the State Library site was filled with 19th century Chinese celadon bowls and remnants from the Chinese cabinet makers who once occupied the site. 

French perfumes were regularly found at the State Library Station archaeological site. 

Mr Pepdjonovic said his favourite artefact was a hair keepsake. The personal artefact, having fallen behind trends of intimacy displays, gives a particular insight into cultural history.

All of the sites were once occupied by the indigenous population around the Yarra area who were forcefully displaced with the founding of Melbourne in the 1830s.

The history of the Town Hall site, next to Young and Jackson, was unpacked in a CBD News article in June 2018.

The land of the State Library site, on the corner of LaTrobe and Swanston streets, was first sold in 1849 to J. Austin, Thomas Ozane and Thomas Budds Payne.

The first known buildings were butchers, fishmongers, ironmongers and other traders.

A Metro Tunnel Headquarters has been set up on Swanston St for visitors to view artefacts and displays.

The archaeological work in the CBD is predicted to be wrap up in about three months.

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