Duval alumni dig into College’s past

Published 06 October 2009

shardsAlumni and current residents of the University of New England’s Duval College literally dug into the past during the College’s 50th anniversary celebrations last month.

Over the weekend of September 18-20, as well as sharing reminiscences and celebrating the distinguished history of the College, Duval alumni from near and far  (as far, in fact, as Fiji) took part in an archaeological excavation that revealed graphic glimpses of the University’s past.

Under the guidance of UNE archaeologist Dr Mark Moore, and working in true “Time-Team” fashion, they uncovered hundreds of artefacts from the site of the University’s original waste disposal depot. The site, to the west of UNE’s Circular Road, was discovered by chance in May this year when staff members of the University’s Facilities Management Services were repairing an underground water pipe.

“Since it was Duval College’s 50th anniversary, and the rubbish from the residential “huts” that evolved into Duval College would be included in the site, we thought it would be fun to have the alumni come and excavate, as well as tell stories from their historical knowledge of the University,” said Diana Cowie, an Archaeology Honours student and member of the Duval College Senior Common Room, who organised the dig.

“We excavated a two-metre-long trench to gain an understanding of the stratigraphy of the site,” Ms Cowie said, “and from this we noticed numerous backhoe trenches and fills. But the key layer was at the bottom of the trench (about 1.5 metres down) where garbage was burnt to compact it. The fire must have been extremely hot, as there were glass bottles that had been completely warped.”

The artefacts recovered included dated beer bottle bases from the late 1940s to the 1960s, fragments of cups with the University of Sydney crest (pictured here) from the years before UNE’s autonomy, Chinese porcelain and English and Australian dinner ware, glass test tubes and pipettes, light fittings, and Gestetner ink bottles.

The alumni found the exercise “very interesting and exciting to be a part of”, Ms Cowie said. “Some got onto their hands and knees in a 1×1 metre trench and scraped away the dirt with trowels, while others sieved the dirt that came out for fine artefacts such as nails.”

She added that the trench had since been closed “until another interested group or the UNE Archaeology discipline use it again to give people a ‘Time-Team’ experience or to train them in the techniques of archaeology”.