Christ Church Cathedral Park is the resting place of more than 3300 of the city's earliest European inhabitants and an Aboriginal camping ground and possible corroboree site for thousands of years prior. A site dig began on Thursday to preserve it ahead of landscaping and heritage interpretation works.
AMAC Group is leading the excavations, whose principal director Martin Carney said European burials at the site dated back to the early 1800s, with Newcastle's first mayor and Cawarra shipwreck victims buried there.
"It's one of the most significant sites in Newcastle," he said.
Any found artefacts will be stored with Newcastle council, Mr Carney said.
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"We're looking for objects of Indigenous heritage in the subsoil, but within the trenches, we also will come across remains of burial cuts, and possibly fragments of tombstones," he said. "We've already found one piece of a tombstone this morning.
"If we find any Indigenous objects, the standard practice varies, but often they're either returned to local groups or re-buried."
Unearthing artefacts is an important way for Indigenous people to connect with their past, Awabakal Descendants Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation managing director Peter Leven said. He has been engaged to oversee the dig, along with council's Guraki Aboriginal Advisory Committee.
"It's a way that we can actually have a tangible link back through time to our own people," Mr Leven said.
"In Newcastle, there's about 150 to 500mm of fill, and under that there is this pristine sand. What's contained within it is the stone artefacts of our old people that have been used for thousands of years. That's the only footprint that they've left."
Mr Levin has been involved in similar processes in the past and said recovering ancient artefacts of his people was a special feeling.
"To be the first person or second person or third person to touch an artefact that hasn't been handled in 200, 500, 1000 years is a feeling that just never gets old," he said.