Sydney Harbour YHA, The Rocks
Historical Archaeological Assessment
Development Approvals and Permits
Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority
The Rocks, Sydney
The bustling neighbourhood of the Cumberland/Gloucester Streets site was flattened around 1900, leaving behind a rich archaeological record of early colonial Sydney. In this landmark project, GML pioneered an innovative excavation methodology and analysis of the findings, rethinking large-scale urban archaeology.
The site remained relatively undisturbed throughout the twentieth century and, in 1994, GML Heritage undertook one of the largest urban excavations conducted in Australia. The results were substantial and revealed extensive information on life in The Rocks from the 1790s to the 1950s. The second phase of excavation was undertaken in 2008 as part of the redevelopment of the site as the Sydney Harbour YHA and The Big Dig Archaeology Education Centre.
The excavation and analysis of artefacts at the site were carried out for the Sydney Cove Authority (now the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority). The project addressed five broad research questions covering social, economic and cultural issues. The excavation recovered over a million artefacts and located the remains of 46 separate buildings. The analysis of this archaeological record was integrated with results of historical research undertaken before, during and after the excavation. This was a pioneering attempt at this methodology on a large scale in urban archaeology in Australia.
Undertaking a complex excavation and analysis project on this scale requires efficient management skills, as well as an outstanding professional team. The excavation included a number of archaeologists, specialists, students, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of visitors. The results of the investigation were initially presented in a detailed report of the findings, which were later provided as a multi-volume publication. Other project outcomes include Grace Karskens’ book Inside the Rocks, numerous academic publications and an education kit on Australian archaeology for high school students. The publication program for the project received a National Trust Energy Australia Heritage Award in 2000.