Uncovering the hidden history of Cape Schanck

Tuesday 6 February, 2024

Visitors to Cape Schanck this weekend will get a unique glimpse into an archaeological dig, as Parks Victoria hosts an open day at the historic lightstation.

Over the last three summers, a dig has explored the hidden history of the lightstation and given student archaeologists the chance to do field work at a place steeped in Aboriginal and post-colonial heritage, through the Cape Schanck Archaeological Field School project.

From 10am-2pm on Saturday 10 February, visitors will get the chance to meet the archaeologists, watch an excavation in progress and look at some of the fascinating artefacts the three-year long project has uncovered.

The Field School is a joint project in partnership between Parks Victoria, the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation, Heritage Victoria, Heritage Insight and the Australian National University.

Two years of work has uncovered a cobbled pavement building that may have been a storeroom or stable, along with a collection of 11,877 artefact fragments – around 1800 different objects.

This year’s work will expand the area excavated and continue the search for more artefacts that shine a light on Cape Schanck’s long history.

For thousands of years Aboriginal people came to Cape Schanck, drawn by the abundance of marine life and food sources. The dunes around the lightstation contain many significant cultural heritage sites, shell middens and quarries.

The lighthouse was built in 1857-1859, in response to increasing shipwrecks along the coast, and has been in continuous operation ever since.

The open day will also look at marine archaeology, including the chance to see items found at shipwreck sites off the Mornington Peninsula – the SS Cheviot (wrecked in 1887), SS Sierra Nevada (1900) and SS Craigburn (1891).

The lightstation will be receiving heritage restoration works over the coming 12 months, thanks to a $16.5 million investment in some of our most celebrated heritage sites.

For more information on the restoration works, visit www.parks.vic.gov.au/projects/statewide-projects/heritage-icons-projects

Quotes, attributed to Parks Victoria Senior Manager Heritage Services Paul Roser

“We’re really excited to give visitors the chance to learn about the fascinating archaeological work at Cape Schanck and get a close-up look at an archaeological dig in progress.”

Quotes, attributed to Jeremy Smith, Principal Archaeologist, Heritage Victoria

“The dig has given archaeology students a rare opportunity to participate in the excavation of a significant site and learn excavation and artefact analysis techniques from some of Victoria’s most experienced archaeologists.”

Quotes, attributed to Wendy Dolling, Executive Archaeologist (Historic Heritage), Heritage Insight

“The Cape Schanck Field School combines the best aspects of working in historic heritage as we have the opportunity to excavate a highly significant site, at an amazing location, with the enthusiastic and active support from Parks Victoria, Bunurong Traditional Owners and Heritage Victoria.”

Quotes, attributed to Dr Ben Shaw, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, ANU

“For the students who have taken the course it has been a profound learning experience working with Bunurong peoples to document the past and understand its relevance for the future.”


A group of people uncovering a cobbled pavement from beneath a green lawn.

Archaeologists excavating a cobbled pavement discovered as part of the Cape Schanck Field School. Credit: Parks Victoria


A table covered with bits of pottery and other items: an archaeologist hold a piece of a ceremic plate

Artefacts uncovered from the Cape Schanck Field School being examined at Heritage Insights' laboratory. Credit: Heritage Insights

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