Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay – Publications

The submerged landscapes project was initially planned as a 3 month research sabbatical, but the surprising success of analysing old data, and the enthusiasm and interest from academics, government agencies and the local Traditional Owner groups meant that work on the project continued for over 18 months. In order to maintain interest, and keep people updated on what was a ground-breaking project in Australia, I wrote a number of short updates for the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) Newsletter.

Unfortunately these Newsletters haven’t yet been transferred to the new AIMA website but thanks to the publications team at AIMA these updates are now available online via my page. The first dates from 2007 and provides an introduction to the project. The second is a halfway point update from 2008. The final one from 2009 provides a summary of the results, including background on the animation, the pollen diagram and radiocarbon date created as a spin off for the project, and a brief discussion on the validity of the methodology and it’s potential for use elsewhere in Australia. I hope they are of interest for those looking for references from this project whilst I try to find some time to finish the journal publication.

Just to get you in the mood, here is one of the 19th century images that helped inform and inspire our animation.



Merri Creek, Plenty Ranges 1864 from The Melbourne Album, published by Charles Troedel, Melbourne, 1863–64. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Online




Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay – The Animation

The following information was formerly hosted online by Heritage Victoria, Department of Planning and Community Development, but is no longer available. The information has been slightly edited for clarity.


The Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay project used published sources, and previously collected raw data to investigate the potential for the survival of ancient land surfaces beneath modern marine sediment and sea water in Port Phillip Bay. Based on sub-bottom profiler data, pollen data, archaeological and historical evidence it was possible to reconstruct the drowned landscape and ancient environment of Port Phillip Bay area around 10,000 years ago, before the Bay was flooded by rising sea levels. This project was the first of its kind in Australia, and demonstrated the value of this multi-disciplinary approach to investigating submerged ancient landscapes in Australian environments.

The landscape reconstruction aimed to provide an idea of what the ancient landscape might have looked like, and uses topographic information from the seismic data and vegetation information from pollen data. The activities of the people represented are based on a combination of archaeological information and historical illustrations.

The research was funded by Heritage Victoria through Victoria’s Heritage Strategy.

How do we know the Bay was dry land?

Since the earliest occupation of Australia, around 60,000BP (Flood 1994: 1), global changes in climate have had dramatic effects on sea levels, exposing and covering vast areas of land. Periods of intense cold (Ice Ages) have frozen sea water in glaciers and ice sheets, resulting in sea levels dropping up to 150m below present levels (Chappell et al 1996).

The last time the sea level dropped on this scale was at the peak of the last Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. It is estimated that Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands was joined to mainland Australia until around 14,000 years ago, when the sea level was approximately 50m below present levels (Lambeck & Chappell 2001). Using current seabed depths as a guide, it is thought that the coastline 14,000 years ago might have been about 7km south of Point Nepean, with the Yarra River running through the area now known as Port Phillip Bay. The area beyond Port Phillip Heads may have been like a river delta, as the freshwater ran southwards to meet the sea, but the effect that the narrow gorge at the Heads had on the water flow is uncertain. It is possible that a waterfall could have formed due to the height difference between the Bay and the land beyond the Heads. Without the assessment of additional geological data from this area, it is not possible to draw definite conclusions. It is estimated that Port Phillip Bay was flooded by rising sea levels around 8000 years ago (Holdgate et al 2001).

How do we know what the landscape was like?

Sub-bottom profile data provide a image like a slice (profile) through the seabed, and show us the layers of sediment beneath the sea. Data from Port Phillip Bay shows river valleys and later accumulation of sediments through time. Figure 1 shows one of the profiles through Port Phillip Bay where large valleys are visible, but now filled in with sediments.


Figure 1: Example of seismic sub-bottom profile data identifying the submerged and buried river channel in the northern part of Port Phillip Bay (Esso pipeline survey).

By combining position and depth information from a number of profiles, a 3D model  was created, shown in Figure 2, which provides an idea of what the topography would have been like prior to flooding. The sub-bottom profile survey lines are approximately 2-3km apart, making this model very rough, but figure 2 does suggest that the Bay area was generally low lying, with large shallow valleys up to 3km wide running through it in the northern part, and around 6 narrower, deeper valleys in the southern part.


Figure 2: A) The 3D representation of the river channels flowing through the central part of Port Phillip Bay and B) the location of the 3D reconstruction within the Bay (Source: Author)

The channels could not be traced any further south due to the type of seabed sediments, which prevented deeper penetration by the sub bottom profiler. It is thought that the smaller channels re-joined into one large channel, then flowed out through Port Phillip Heads in a deep channel or waterfall (Holdgate 1981: 128).

How do we know what trees & plants were here?

Generalisations about vegetation at the end of the last Ice Age suggest a thin and broken band of woodland along the eastern and south-eastern coast Australia, whilst the Bass Strait Islands were dominated by open scrub and heath, with some forested areas (D’Costa & Kershaw 1997). It has been suggested that the windy and dry climatic conditions of the period may have reduced woodlands to localised favourable sites, such as river valleys, and that grass and scrub covered much of the eastern coast (Adams & Faure 1997).

The vegetation reconstruction in this animation is based on pollen information collected from buried sediments in Port Phillip Bay. Sediments recovered within core samples contained pollen from ancient trees and plants. The pollen of each plant and tree type is unique and can be seen under a microscope, allowing the identification of plant and tree species that were alive in the area in the past.

Sediment and pollen from the top of the core is the most recent, whilst the sediment and pollen from the bottom of the core is the oldest. Core 7D, collected by Guy Holdgate in 1971 from the central part of Port Phillip Bay, was re-analysed and a new dates obtained. An oyster shell from 1.5m down core 7D was dated by radiocarbon to 6273 ± 36 BP (Wk-23494). The pollen from the lowest sample (3.75m) produced evidence of Sheoaks (Casuarinaceae), daisies (Asteraceae), a small amount of grass (Poaceae), saltbush (Chenopodiaceae) and some fern, moss and liverwort spores (Barbara Wagstaff pers comm.). As the pollen comes from a layer below the radiocarbon dated oyster shell, the pollen must be older than 6273 ± 36 BP.

How do we know that people were here?

Dreamtime stories passed down through the generations tell the stories of the Aboriginal groups who lived, and still live in the Port Phillip Bay area. The stories describe the formation of the landscape, the daily lives, relationships, customs and rituals of the people living here.

Archaeological excavations from around Port Phillip Bay have found evidence of people living in the area continuously from around 32,000 years ago. Sites at Keilor and Pakenham Lakeside provide information about daily life in temporary campsites, with hearths and stone tool working areas. Burials at Green Gully, Brimbank Park and on the Werribee River provide evidence of customs and rituals.

Historical records and traditional crafts can provide an indication of tool kits that might not survive archaeologically, such as basketry.

What are the people in the reconstructed campsite doing (Figure 3)?


Figure 3: Still image of the reconstructed campsite at the end of the animation (Source: Janet Saw and Hanna Steyne)

It is thought that the climate of the Melbourne area around 10,000 years ago would have been slightly damper and cooler than today. The only direct information we have about how people kept warm in this damper and colder climate are the archaeological remains of hearths, so we have shown one of these at the camp.Historical records and oral history from contemporary Traditional Owner groups, describe the local community using Possum skin cloaks to keep dry and warm, so we have dressed our people in these. In addition, a number of historical drawings and photographs show that different designs of bark huts were used as shelter, but it is possible that shelters could have been roofed with grasses, reeds or rushes or animal hides.

We have depicted people at the camp fishing and with a Kangaroo ready for butchering. This is based on both tools and animal bones that have been found archaeologically, and Aboriginal knowledge of food sources in the Port Phillip Area that has been passed down through the generations.

The animation

The animation can be found here on YouTube

The landscape visualisation and animation was created by Janet Saw and Tom Chandler at the Information Technology Unit (ITU) at Monash University. Through the combination of the DEM model and environmental information. It took around 120 hours to create, using four pieces of animation software; Autodesk 3ds Max, Forest Pack Pro 3, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects. The team converted digital elevation models, that were created using the seismic sub-bottom profile data, into a 3D mesh. Landscape colour, texture and vegetation was then added. The trees were mostly Casaurina and were added using random scattering algorithms. The limited budget did not allow for a full spectrum of accurate vegetation to be created, and therefore alternative, closest match models were used.



Adams J.M. & Faure H. 1997. (eds), QEN members. Review and Atlas of Palaeovegetation: Preliminary land ecosystem maps of the world since the Last Glacial Maximum. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN, USA.

Chappell et al. 1996. Reconciliation of late Quaternary sea levels derived from coral terraces at Huon peninsula with deep sea oxygen isotope records. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 141: 227-236.

D’Costa, D.D. & Kershaw, P. 1997. An expanded Recent Pollen Database from South-eastern Australia and its Potential for refinement of Palaeoclimatic Estimates. Aust. J. Bot. 45: 583-605.

Flood, J. 1994. Archaeology of the Dreamtime. Marleston, South Australia: J.B. Publishing.

Holdgate, G.R., Thompson, B.R. & Guerin, B. 1981. Late Pleistocene Channels in Port Phillip. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria. 92: 119-130

Holdgate et al. 2001. Marine geology of Port Phillip, Victoria. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. 48: 429-455.

Lambeck, K. & Chappell, J. 2001. Sea Level Change Through the Last Glacial Cycle. Science. 292: 679-686.

Discovering London with Interdisciplinary Resources

Last week I attended a really interesting session, aimed at postgraduate students, to introduce us to a range of of interdiscipinary archives and institutions relevant to researching the history of London, organised by two Senate House librarans. The day included short introductions to the collections at Senate House Library, the Centre for Metropolitan Studies at the IHR and British History Online.

The day brought a number of archives and sources to my attention that I hadn’t known about, including the Guildhall Library and Bishopsgate Insitute. I am also excited to investigate the colletions of Victorian visitor and walking tour guides that may prove particularly useful in trying to understand the experience and perception of landscape in the pre-embankment period. I also discovered the Talis views of London, which sadly don’t seem to cover Chelsea, probably becuase the area was considered outside of London in the early 1840s when his images and guides were written/drawn.

The Literary London Society were also in attendance, an organisation whose stated aim is to ‘foster interdisciplinary and historically wide ranging research into London literature, in its historical, social and cultural contexts’. The LLS pulls together a wide range of people researching London, but from varied different angles, with varying relationships with London literature, including historical geographers, urban historians alongside the expected English Literature researchers. I have previously looked into the possibility of using contemporary literature to provide some indication of how the pre-Embankment landscape was perceived and experienced at the time, but suspect that becuase the volume of mid-late 19th century literature on London is so huge, scouring it for references specifically to the riverside or Chelsea speifically may be beyond the scope of my PhD. Michelle Allen’s book Cleansing the City (2007) gives an indication of how this might work, using detailed analysis of Dickens’ literature to explore the ‘geographies’ of 19th century London. However, one potential way into yet another discipline that I have no experience in, may be the 2017 Literary London Society conference. I am wondering if a session to discuss riverside landscapes in litereature might provide the opportunity to talk to other people who have more expertise and experience in this area? I will ponder.

We were also given a brief introduction to the Layers of London project, being coordinated by the Centre for Metropolitan Research at the Institute of Historical Research. The project is digitising and georeferencing a number of historic maps of the Barking and Dagenham area, however the project may provide both an unusual source of information, and an interesting output for my research. In addition to traditional map regression type work that the project is doing, they are collecting oral histories, biographies and photographic collections to tell a variety of stories. Of particular interest is the collection of oral histories, biographies, and personal photographs from residents of the Gasgoine Estate, which is due to be demolished and ‘regenerated’. Whilst I haven’t had a look at these archives yet, they might provide a fascinating insight into people’s connections with homes and place within the wider estate, thereby providing a contemporary ethnographic view of the impact and effect of imposed housing demolition and landscape remodeling.

Sarah Milligan from British History Online provided an excellent run through of some key sources available through the BHO website. Sources include the Victoria County Histories, the Survey of London and Old and New London, Volume 5 (1878), which provides fabulous descriptions of the changes that the construction of the Chelsea Embankment brought:

At its commencement by Battersea Bridge very little land has been reclaimed from the Thames; but one alteration is worthy of mention—the old awkward way down to the steamboat pier under the archway of a private house has been cleared away, and the pontoon, moored close to the wall, is reached by a bridge resting in an opening in the granite. An old block of houses, too, which stood between this spot and Chelsea Church has been entirely removed. They formed a narrow quaint looking old thoroughfare, called Lombard Street, one part of which was spanned by the upper rooms of an old house. The backs of one side of this thoroughfare overlooked, and here and there overhung, the river; but they have all been cleared away, and the narrow street converted into a broad one, so that one side of it faces the river.’ From <>

Leila Kassir gave a fascinating talk discussing the links between writers of London fictional literature and London historiography, and astutely identified that ways in which these writers become implicated in the creation of London’s identity when they write about the city. I felt slightly shamed by the small volume of ‘London Literature’ that I’ve read, but feel inspired to explore more.

The librarians/archivists had kindly brought a number of interesting volumes for us to look at. One of them was titled ‘London on the Thames: Life Above and Below Bridge’ by Angus B. Reach. Whilst the book itself doesn’t have a publication date, the Birkbeck online catalogue suggests 1848. In this lovely little book are a series of descriptions of the river and riverside, including this passage, which provides a lovely evocative description of the Thames at mid-century:

This chapter is merely devoted to a cursory glance at the river in its now-a-days’ condition, and to attempt to convey to the reader’s mind a general notion of the mass of elements, which, when united, produce the Thames.

Let the student, then, conceive an agglomerate mass made up as follows: – mud banks, dead cats, dead dogs, slimy hurdles, coal-barges, grimy wharfs, common sewers, police galleys, dishes of whitebait, coal-heavers, water-side public-houses, penny steam-boats, mudlarks, Jacks in the Water, tiers of colliers, ugly ballast boats, Dutch craft with Kennet eels, Boulogne steamers with railway defaulters, yachts going as far as Erith on  a voyage to the East Indies, gents conducting gentesses to the Red House at Battersea; stokers fastening down safety-valves, reading penny newspapers, and drinking beer instead of attending to their work; foreigners in funny hats and coats going to see the Tunnel; touters on all the piers shouting ‘Now then, London Bridge, Thames Tunnel, Lime’us, Shadwell, Greenwich, Blackwall, and Woolwich’; rowing-men in flannel shirts and straw-hats, in training for a match; halfpenny boats, penny boats, two-penny boats, three-penny boats, four-penny boats, five-penny boats, six-penny boats –  all puffing, paddling, snortin, blowing- boys in all of them, screaming “move her ahee-id, a turn a sta-arn, ease herrr, stop herrr, back herrr;” imagine all this and a great deal more-tiers of shipping, lines of old tumble-down houses, rigging, chimneys, wharfs, bridges, boats, and everywhere muddy water and restless currents-all moving-all comingling-and all over a canopy of ever-rolling smoke; gather together, we say, all these elements in your minds-eye, and before that eye will be displayed the idea to be conjured up by these magic words “The Thames”.


From: Angus B. Reach, 1848, London on the Thames: Live Above and Below Bridge.


Day of Archaeology 2016

In 2011 the first Day of Archaeology launched, with a website to give the world a sample of what we archaeologist actually get up to. Although the tellybox may distil our work into a few exciting days of excavation, the reality is a little different. For starters, a huge number of archaeologists do not spend their time excavating, or even recording archaeological sites. Whilst it is always nice to enthuse people about archaeology through new discoveries, it is the view behind the scenes, and out of the field which I think is really wonderful about the Day of Archaeology. The fact that entries come from all over the world adds to the colourful view of what we get up to.

This year I wanted to join in this wonderful celebration of archaeology. The Day of Archaeology was a Friday, a day I am usually on childcare, so I wrote about the day before. It may not be the most exciting entry, and is unlikely to persuade anyone to chose archaeology as a profession, but it will certainly provide a pretty standard view of what archaeology can end up being about! You can read my blog entry for the 2016 Day of Archaeology here. Enjoy!

Fieldwork and family

After my initial visit to the Chelsea foreshore in January, which confirmed that there was interesting archaeological remains to be surveyed, I started planning some dates for a systematic survey. As my site is on the foreshore of a tidal river, it spends more time covered in water than exposed. As such, dates and times for site visits need to be carefully planned. The best times for visits are at ‘Spring tides’, where the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth are aligned to created the higher high tides and lower low tides. These low Spring tides expose the most area of foreshore, and therefore the most archaeological remains. Spring tides are fortnightly, and the level to which the water drops varies daily, as does the time of the lowest water level. The provision of tide prediction tables makes planning easier. The low tides, however, still only provide around two hours when the foreshore is exposed.

The process of fieldwork planning was made all the more complicated for me, however, because I have a two year old to factor in. We do not live in London, but I am lucky to have family in central London who are willing to look after the toddler whilst I romp along the foreshore. To work around available childcare, my fieldwork needed to be on Friday – Mondays. The combined limitations of Spring tides, daylight, Friday – Monday childcare all conspired to give just four weekends between February and September with suitable tides. In February, a schedule of visits to London every other weekend in April and May seemed completely achievable. In my head, I would spend about three hours each morning doing my survey work, and perhaps a chilled hour over lunch downloading photographs and GPS data, leaving the afternoons free to catch up with family and my boy. Awesome.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

In reality, we returned ‘home’ from surveys at lunchtime tired and hungry, and with hours of work to do downloading GPS survey data and photographs, writing up recording forms and backing everything up. The less said about transfering photos from Macs to PCs the better! On days when my parents were on childcare duty, they went for a nap in the afternoon, having been run to exhaustion by the small one. This meant I had to wait until Small was asleep to download and back up data. On other weekends, my husband was able to join us for a few days, leaving me free in the afternoons to work. Unfortunately in neither scenario did I manage the chilled afternoon I envisaged. Having said this, highlights of my fieldwork so far have included a lovely lunch at the Tea House Theatre with Katie Mills on the first day of fieldwork, a family lunch post survey, with Mum and I still in wellies, at the Butcher and Grill, a picnic in Vauxhall park and ice creams in Battersea Park with Peta Knott, Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg. These moments of calm digesting work and lunch in lovely surroundings have made working in central London a real pleasure. The amazing support my family has given me has made the difference between doing fieldwork or not. Because of their help I have not only been able to physically get onto the foreshore (without taking Small), but I have also been given valuable time to do all the data processing that has ensured every day has been productive.

In conclusion; trying to do fieldwork with a toddler in tow is harder work and more tiring than I thought. Which is also my current feeling about doing a PhD with a toddler.


Back of the car packed with survey kit, pushchair and balance bike. All the essentials for fieldwork with a toddler

Forays on the foreshore

I spent a couple of cold and soggy hours in January walking along the Chelsea Embankment and foreshore looking for archaeological sites and remains. Much of the information I have gathered so far has been from historic documents and mapping, both of which are fairly biased records of activity in the past. As such, the identification and assessment of archaeological remains associated with 19th century activity on and around the waterfront is a vital addition to my research.

The Thames Archaeology Survey (TAS), carried out a rapid recording of archaeological sites on the foreshore in London between 1996 and 1999. It aimed to locate, number and photograph all archaeological remains on the Thames foreshore in London. The survey was rapid and the recording minimal, often a position and a photograph. The interpretation of many sites is now questionable after decades of additional research into foreshore sites. The work done by the Thames Discovery Programme (TDP) volunteers and archaeologists has been instrumental in improving our knowledge and understanding of activity on the foreshore. In order to make use of this new knowledge, I was pleased to be able to lure TDP archaeologist Eliott Wragg down to Chelsea to join me on the foreshore for a few hours.

The aim of this first visit was to have a quick look at what was on the foreshore and get a feel for how useful, or otherwise, it would be to my research. Walking along the foreshore also gave me a completely different perspective on the Embankment itself, but I think I will write that up in a separate post. Our walkover survey was relatively fruitful and a number of interesting features were observed. Inevitably we found unidentifiable bits of wood, like the one below, numbered by TAS as FKN04 A119 and interpreted as a ‘mooring post?’. Our thoughts were that it was more likely to be part of a revetment or jetty structure, but it might require a bit more research to reach any kind of conclusion.


Eliott Wragg pondering over a timber and iron feature on the Chelsea foreshore.

We located a number of chalk bargebeds, more than had been picked up by TAS. These are areas of large chalk blocks or cobbles, which provided a stable surfaces on which barges could be beached. Unlike the bargebeds down stream, the Chelsea ones do not appear to have wooden containing revetments, but perhaps this is an area that requires a bit more investigation. Bargebeds do not generally appear on historic mapping, and without excavation and the recovery of dateable objects, are very difficult to date. They may have their origins in the late medieval period, but this photograph from 1929 shows they were still being laid in the early 20th century. Whatever the date, the Chelsea ones certainly pre-date the 1870s Embankment and are likely to have been important points of activity on the foreshore in the 19th century. Bargebeds would have been located close to jetties, wharves and onshore businesses and I am hopeful that historic mapping and business directories will help link the sites with the pre-embankment businesses.


One of the many barge beds we spotted.

One of the other interesting site types we found were peat outcrops, including one with an acorn in! Whilst not directly relevant to my research on 19th century activity, the presence of peat outcrops is of archaeological interest, and these are likely to be prehistoric in date.


An acorn embedded within some of the prehistoric peat eroding out of the foreshore

Overall, this first trip was not only interesting, but also reassuring. There is pre-embankment archaeology on the foreshore (phew) and I think it will help me find out what the social and economic impacts of the Embankment construction was. Thankfully. That is a relief!

Stinking Foreshore to Tree Lined Avenue


I’ve created this blog as a space in which to reflect on my experiences as a PhD researcher and to muse on the places I go, people I meet and the variety of things I learn.

My research investigates the impact and effect of the Thames Embankment construction on working-class riverside residents in Chelsea. The Embankments were the largest publicly funded infrastructure projects of the 19th century, and their primary effect was to turn the stinking, sewage covered Thames foreshore into a wide, tree-lined avenue. This, and the prevention of further cholera outbreaks, is the predominant narrative in relation to the Embankments. The loss of waterfront businesses, opportunities for employment, the demolition of working-class housing and the eviction of the riverside residents is an untold story, but one I hope to illuminate in the coming years.

My background as a maritime archaeologist has provided me with experience combing traditional archaeological and historical sources with a water-orientated perception of landscapes and activity around water. The foreshore has traditionally been an under-researched area, falling outside of the comfort zones of both maritime and terrestrial archaeologists. Whilst a lot of research has taken place over the last 15 years on coastal foreshores, later post-medieval urban ports and waterfronts have been somewhat neglected. My aim is to highlight the value of a combined maritime archaeological and social history approach to our understanding of urban watery places and particularly the Thames riverside.

I’ll keep you posted and let you know how I get on …