Deep Time Project

Deep Time Infographic (UON Innovation Team)


This work is conducted in memory and respectfully honours the First Australian People,
the Aboriginal People of this land.


12 April, 2019. UON Media Release.
“Virtual reality unearths ancient Indigenous artefacts”

24 April, 2019. Gionni di Gravio interviewed by Jenny Marchant, ABC 1233 Newcastle.
“Indigenous History of Newcastle” LISTEN HERE

The Deep Time Project is a University of Newcastle initiative to create an immersive 3D VR simulation of a 6,700 year old archaeological dig of an ancient Aboriginal factory site uncovered in Newcastle West in 2009. Over 5,500 artefacts were discovered on the site by archaeologists working with Awabakal Aboriginal traditional custodians. It is with great respect to the Aboriginal ancestors who created these objects, and to further greater respect for ancient Aboriginal culture that this project was developed.

The UON Innovation Team developed the Deep Time Project, which is a 3D immersive representation of the Palais Royale dig site. The 3D scans of artefacts are housed within the Living Histories@UON Platform and farmed out to the 3D VR, where they can be accessed and examined in the original places they were found in the dig.

We warmly welcome local Aboriginal Elders, family and community members to come and view this initiative. If you wish to visit, please contact Dr Ann Hardy (Historian, WIL Co-ordinator GLAMx Living Histories Lab) on 49854594 or email to arrange day and time to visit.


“University of Newcastle team time travels with virtual reality” by Scott Bevan
Newcastle Herald Weekender 18 November 2017 pp4-6 [Online Version]

“Virtual Digging.” By Scott Bevan. Newcastle Herald Weekender, [PDF Version] 18 November 2017 pp. 4-6



In 2009 an archaeological dig was conducted on the former Palais Royale Site, a known site of Aboriginal heritage importance, in Newcastle West.

A final report published in 2011 (located here: ) documented over 5,500 artefacts uncovered, providing physical evidence of three waves of Aboriginal human occupation across 6,700 years on the site of two ancient dunes including:

1. 1st wave between 6,716 – 6,502 years BP (BP=before present)
2. 2nd wave ca. 3,500 years BP
3. 3rd wave between 2,480  – 1,933 years BP

In 2011, the four Aboriginal parties involved with the Archaeological Excavation decided to deposit the boxes of artefacts with the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections under a OEH Care and Control Agreement.

In September 2016 two 3D and Virtual Reality innovation pilot projects involving the artefacts were proposed as part of the establishment of a GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation lab, a work integrated learning initiative (WIL) with the Cultural Collections in the Auchmuty Library.

In 2017 the Auchmuty Library set up the GLAMx lab with three spaces, along with a WIL co-ordinator to look after the students and volunteers.  The UON Innovation Team, with funding from FEDUA, successfully sourced digitisation equipment,  and initial trials digitising artefacts into 3D, and farming them through our Recollect Living Histories @ UON platform to an immersive 3D virtual reality simulation of the dig was successfully created.  This is known as the Deep Time Project.

‘6500-year-old heritage junked’ Newcastle Herald 21 May 2011 p.7

Legislative Significance

The Archaeological Report was published in May 2011, along with the media reaction, on the then Coal River Working Party site here:

The significance of the site, and the scant regard for such an important Aboriginal place helped to trigger enough community uproar for a parliamentary review into what went wrong, and what legislatively could be put right in the Act in June 2011 here:

After a trip to Parliament House to view the documents, recommendations on Aboriginal Heritage reforms were published in August 2011 here:

Since then, the NSW Government has been working with Aboriginal communities across the State to create their own Act.


The Technical Process Begins

While scanning artefacts to 3D, it was noted that there was no order to the artefacts within the boxes, even though each had been numbered. This made it difficult to retrieve any particular artefact from a particular location in the dig.

What appears to have happened is that the archaeologists beautifully documented every artefact and group of artefacts (approx. 5,500 items) according to their Spit (depth) and grid co-ordinate position (A,B,C 1-16).

Then, when it came to boxing them, they bagged them according to type, (archivists call this a ‘series’) i.e., “cores and other tools”, “scrapers”, “fragile and conjoins” and “special finds” etc. and in so doing scrambled their original order.

This is the equivalent to a librarian cataloguing a library of books according to dewey decimal system, then going though and removing all the yellow books and putting them in a bag, all the blue books …etc etc.

Deep Time artefact under 3D magnifier (2017)

What Needed to be done?

We needed to re-establish the “original order” from the dig and rehouse it all in order, so that we can locate each item quickly.

To achieve this we adopt an archival methodology to establish:
1 the creator/provenance (who created them, where they came from) i.e., the Aboriginal ancestors
2 the series, i.e., what collective type of item represented eg. Scraper, core, fragile tool, charcoal sample, etc
3 the items  i.e., the individual item bags

The original creators didn’t place all their scrapers in the one place, or their cores in another. So we can’t apply a series system here, or else we get what we have now, a mess.

Rather, we would interpret (1) the original provenance; as being the three waves of Aboriginal people who crafted the objects as “creators” across 6,700 years to the present.

The items (3); have already been identified, numbered and labelled according to where they were located in the earth and bagged. It was also noted that the ink of the bags was beginning to fade, so we needed to copy this data to cards and inserted into the bags to ensure this information wasn’t lost.

The type of artefact (2);  (i.e., series), if known, has been also recorded. We have been adding this information to the labels in each item’s bag.

Volunteer Anne Kay (2017)


The re-arrangement to original order

We began by distinguishing all items from grid coordinates A, B, C.

We then sorted all items according to Spit. (depth)

We then ordered each spit according to its location along the grid co-ordinates A1-16, B1-16, C1-16.


Volunteer and UON YAPUG Student, Jason Connor (2017)

RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC1233 Newcastle – Interview with Gionni di Gravio & Jason Connor.  Interviewer Garth Russell, October 27, 2017.

The Archives Location Number

So the recommended numbering scheme for these artefacts is as follows:

PR09 – SPIT Number [1-20] – Grid Coordinate [A,B,C 1-16] – [any other number assigned with object]


Volunteer Beth digitising artefact to 3D object


Stages completed and/or currently underway

(1) Complete re-ordering and re-housing of the artefacts into new archival boxes.

(2) The data relating to each item(s) has been entered onto the “ Recollect” excel spreadsheet. Thanks to volunteer Rebecca Simpson.

(3) Relabelling and photography using the light box and camera is being undertaken of each item or group of items. Thanks to volunteers Ann Kay and Jason Connor.

(4) A detailed drawing of the artefacts, especially those too small to 3D digitise has been completed by our Natural History Illustration student placement, Emma Heath. These items will be batch uploaded to the Living Histories @ UON Digital Platform.

(5) 3D scanning of artefacts to VR is continuing and being uploaded to Living Histories @ UON using the 3D object and asset nodes. There have been twenty or so artefacts already digitised in 3D thanks to volunteers Beth Anastasiou, Jason Connor, Victoria Havice (our first High School Placement) and Dr Ann Hardy.

(6) A visual representation of the the various epochs of the ancient dune are being created by volunteer Rosie Heritage.


Emma Heath, Natural History Illustration Student Placement at work, 2017


About the GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab

We have spent the best part of the year 2017 establishing the GLAMx Living Histories Digitisation Lab as part of Cultural Collection (Auchmuty Library), with 10 places for work integrated learning students (half are dedicated to Aboriginal students and cadet places) incorporating a film lab for digitising half a century of NBN Television film and video, and a 3D digitisation and conservation lab for artefacts including Aboriginal artefacts.

The idea is to place our students in touch with the care, conservation, documentation, digitisation of 50,000 years of history in the Hunter Region, across all forms and formats. ‘GLAM’ stands for galleries, libraries, archives and museums, and we hope to be able to provide professional training to give our students an edge through some great experience that will help them get a job in this sector in coming years.



12 April, 2019. UON Media Release. “Virtual reality unearths ancient Indigenous artefacts”

24 April, 2019. Gionni di Gravio interviewed by Jenny Marchant, ABC Newcastle. “Indigenous History of Newcastle” LISTEN HERE



We greatly appreciate the help currently being provided by our students and volunteers including Beth Anastasiou, Jason Connor, Ann Kay, Rebecca Simpson, Rosie Heritage, Victoria Havice and Emma Heath on this project and hope that this information assists in clarifying the challenges of this Project.


If you wish to support this project, and help employ our volunteers,
and sponsor Aboriginal cadetship positions
please donate to the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund.

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