Dig at Oxford Tavern site reveals layers of history

Archaeologist and site planner James McGuinness at the old Oxford Tavern site excavations. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI
Archaeologist and site planner James McGuinness at the old Oxford Tavern site excavations. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

There are no mummies or crystal skulls but the archaeological excavation of the former Oxford Tavern site in Wollongong is uncovering some interesting finds.

In what is possibly the largest archaeological excavation undertaken in the Illawarra, a team of workers has been patiently uncovering snippets of the secret history of one of the region's most beloved live music venues.

Old plates, beer and champagne bottles dating back to the 1800s have been uncovered by senior archaeologist Alex Beben on the 900-square-metre site.

But they are just some of the exciting discoveries, according to excavation director Iain Stuart.

"Most people in Wollongong will remember this [site] for the bands and the pub in the 80s, but they wouldn't be aware of the long history," Mr Stuart said.

"What we found in our excavations was evidence of very early hotels, though we don't know very much about them."

Since they arrived at the site more than a week ago, the team has uncovered stone-stacked walls and open fireplaces from the original hotel, believed to date from around the 1830s.

They have found the stone footings from the temperance building that stood next to the hotel, and evidence of ash from when it burnt down.

A mysterious, large bricked pipe that pre-dated the original hotel was a particularly exciting find, as well as the discovery that several hotels had been knocked down and rebuilt over time.

"When we were doing our research, we expected to find one building that had been expanded and was built upon over time but this clearly shows they've knocked it down and rebuilt it [more than once]," Mr Beben said.

He is urging the community to come to the site's open day and bring along pictures or information that could help archaeologists better piece together the site's history.

"We're especially interested in old paintings or photos showing the early hotels because there are only a handful of those - that would be fantastic," he said.

The open day will be from 10am to 2pm on Wednesday.


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