Gender matters

Gender matters. And it’s complicated, which is why writing this blog post has been particularly difficult. Why is it so complicated, from an archaeological standpoint? Well, let me try and explain.

Historical archaeology developed as a discipline in the mid-20th century and, at that time, its practitioners made all sorts of sweeping generalisations about the position of women – and other minorities – in the past (as many archaeologists at the time did, regardless of their period of expertise, and as I’m doing now). For the so-called historic period, these assumptions revolved around women as mother and domestic helpmeet, with no roles outside this, little value placed on this role, little recognition that maybe women wanted more than this and little room for any agency on the part of women.

Times have changed, and society now sees gender – and gender roles – quite differently. Historical archaeologists are no exception to this change. We now see considerable value in the role of women in the 19th century and are able to make far more nuanced interpretations about their lives and experiences.

For all this, women are still frustratingly elusive in the archaeological record. There are some artefacts that definitely indicate the presence of a woman at a site, such as a woman’s shoes, clothing or jewellery. It might be possible to use a perfume bottle to definitely link a woman to a site, or perhaps some specific medicines. The presence of girls might be able to be identified through dolls, but boys could just as easily have played with dolls. And anyway, these artefacts do little more than reinforce those gender stereotypes we’ve moved away from. They tell us that there was a woman at the site, and maybe she wore perfume. Or maybe someone gave her some perfume that she didn’t like. Who knows?

But if you’ve got a site that you know was almost exclusively occupied by women for over 40 years, that’s a whole different matter. Especially when that site was occupied by the same family for that period, which is pretty unusual in central Christchurch, regardless of the genders involved.

The site in question was that of Violet Cottage. Even the name sounds feminine, right? Well, that’s how it was known when Dr Thomas Moore – and his family – were living there. The Moore family had bought land in Canterbury in 1850, and emigrated the following year (Greenaway 2007, Lundy 2014). They settled at Charteris Bay initially, before moving to Violet Cottage. Unfortunately for Dr Moore, he only lived at the cottage for two or three years before his untimely death in 1860 (Lyttelton Times 15/2/1860: 4). Following his death, members of his family remained at  the cottage until the 20th century (H Wise and Co 1911). This included Mrs Elizabeth Moore, and the children: Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas, Jane, Ellen, Annie and Emma (H Wise & Co 1878-1979, Lundy 2014). Elizabeth lived at Violet Cottage until her death in 1887 and two of her daughters – Annie and Emma – continued to live at the cottage until the 20th century. We’ve not been able to identify how the women supported themselves after Thomas senior’s death, but there is some evidence to suggest that they had income from property near Violet Cottage (Hughes et al. 2014: 4).

 Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.


Violet Cottage, 1881. Image: Andersen 1949: 430.

What we found at the site was perhaps surprising: there was nothing about the assemblage we recovered that suggested the artefacts were deposited by a predominantly female household. Or even that there were women living at the site: no women’s clothing, perfume bottles or shoes. Nothing specifically female at all. This is perhaps not surprising, given that we probably only recovered a fraction of the material culture discarded by the site’s occupants over the more than 40 years they lived there.

We found a fairly generic Victorian Christchurch domestic assemblage, with one exception. We only found three rubbish pits at the site, and one of these features contained almost nothing but alcohol bottles: 134 of the 146 artefacts we recovered from the feature probably contained alcohol (long-time followers of the blog will know that bottles were frequently re-used in 19th century New Zealand and may not have contained the contents suggested by their form). There was nothing about the rubbish pit that suggested the bottles had been deposited over a number of years, and the pit was probably filled over a relatively short period of time. So someone at the site may have been doing a lot of drinking – or it’s possible that the good doctor was using the alcohol for medical purposes.

 Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Just two of the many alcohol bottles recovered from a rubbish pit at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

Most of the remainder of the artefacts recovered from the site were either ceramics or animal bones (i.e. food waste from the Moores’ meals). The ceramics included a range of serving wares that suggested a well-to-do middle class establishment. There was a tureen, a platter, a milk jug and dinner plates, as well as more utilitarian items, such as chamber pots, a colander and a rather fabulous wash basin. There was only one tea cup, one saucer and no teapots – while that may not seem that interesting, archaeologists have often identified the presence and role of women on 19th century archaeological sites through the ritual of afternoon tea, and the material remains of that ritual. There was some evidence, however, to suggest a matching set of sprigged ware – and this may have been a tea set, as the items from this set were a milk jug, a saucer and a side plate.

 Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.


Ceramics from Violet Cottage. Clockwise from top left: a tureen, a Fibre-decorated side plate, the base of a serving dish and a colander. Image: C. Dickson.

 Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


Fragments of sprigged porcelain recovered from Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The animal bones tell us that the Moores were eating mutton and beef, with a preference for mutton, and a range of both cheap and expensive cuts present – beef cheek anyone? The cuts of mutton were from both the forequarter (or shoulder) and the leg, with the latter suggesting the consumption of roast mutton. In amongst all this evidence for food and its consumption, it is perhaps surprising that no condiment containers were recovered from the site – no vinegars, salad oils or pickles.

 A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.


A wash basin decorated with the Magnolia pattern, found at Violet Cottage. Image: C. Dickson.

The artefact from the site that I found most evocative was a porcelain platter, made by Spode, and decorated with a blue floral pattern. The interesting thing about this platter was that the maker’s mark indicated that it was made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). That means that it was made before the Moores arrived in New Zealand, and that the Moores are very likely to have brought it with them from England, and kept it carefully and safely throughout their travels. For the family, this piece of china may have provided a direct and tangible link between the life they left behind in England and their new life here on the other side of the globe.

 A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.


A Spode platter, made between c.1805 and 1830 (The Potteries 2008). Image: C. Dickson.

We can’t relate this artefact to gender (at least, not without making a whole lot of assumptions that don’t sit comfortably), but it does tell us about the sort of items that new colonists – of a certain class – brought with them for their new lives, and their expectations of those lives: I don’t imagine that the holds of migrant ships were packed with Spode platters or ashets… This platter suggests that the Moore family expected to dine well, and possibly even to entertain, and to maintain certain standards in their new home.

Our experience at this site confirms that gender – and gender roles – can be difficult to explore archaeologically. But the question is an important one and needs to be considered carefully at any archaeological site, rather than simply making assumptions about the role of women in 19th century Christchurch.

Katharine Watson, Chelsea Dickson & Julia Hughes

References

Andersen, J. C., 1949. Old Christchurch in Picture and Story. Simpson and Williams Ltd, Christchurch.

Greenaway, R. L. N., 2007. Barbadoes Street Cemetery Tour. [online] Available at: http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/cemeteries/barbadoes/barbadoesstreetcemetery.pdf [Accessed June 2014].

H. Wise & Co., 1878-1979. Wises New Zealand Post Office Directories. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.

Hughes, J., Dickson, C. and Geary Nichol, R., 2014. 89 Chester Street East, Christchurch: report on archaeological monitoring. Unpublished report for Hawkins Ltd.

Jacobson, H. C., 1914. Tales of Banks Peninsula. Akaroa: Akaroa Mail Office.

Lundy, D., 2014. Dr. Thomas Richard Moore. [online] Available at: <http://www.thepeerage.com/p44788.htm> [Accessed June 2014].

Lyttelton Times. [online] Available at: <www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz>. Accessed April 2014.

The Potteries, 2008. A-Z of Stoke-on-Trent Potters. [online] Available at: www.thepotteries.org.

Frequently asked questions #2

Continuing on from our last FAQ post, here are the answers to a few more of the questions we face regularly here in Christchurch.

1)      Are you doing this for a school project?

Yes, seriously. This gets asked more often than you might think. While it’s perhaps in part a result of the fact that a lot of the archaeologists currently working in Christchurch are under 30 and could, if you squinted (in bad light*), conceivably still be at school, it’s also symptomatic of the larger misconception that archaeology isn’t a proper job. Or, at least, that it’s not a viable method of making a living.

I discussed the job thing in the last FAQ post, so I won’t get into it again here, but thank you (we think?) for entertaining the possibility that we’re still under eighteen.

2)      Really? You don’t look much like an archaeologist.

This one always confuses me. What is an archaeologist supposed to look like? Is it the lack of tweed? Am I not weather-beaten enough? Not dirty enough? Not beardy enough? Were you expecting more khaki?

Contrary to popular opinion, we really do just look like people, I promise. Occasionally dirty, but entirely capable of using a shower. Sometimes incapable of growing a beard. Not always comfortable in tweed. Well acquainted with the protective properties of sunscreen, PPE and hats. Often mistaken for secretaries, architects, history enthusiasts, school teachers and “soil people”, apparently.

All manner of archaeologists

Archaeologists, as they appear in the wild. Not a speck of tweed to be seen. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

3)      Found any moa bones recently?

Other variations include “So, you’re looking for bones right?” and “what’s the coolest bone you’ve ever found?”

Someone asked me the last one at a party recently and I had no idea how to answer it (mummified cats?). Bones aren’t nearly as common in Christchurch sites as artefacts are and when we do find them, their greatest point of interest is as a collection of faunal remains that can tell us something about what people were eating or what kind of animals were on a site. We almost never, in Christchurch at least, find a single bone that’s interesting and cool out of context (I would take this back if I ever found a Haast’s eagle skull. Haast’s eagles are awesome). We certainly don’t find moa bone that often in Christchurch, mostly as a result of the primarily 19th century sites we’re dealing with in the post-earthquake work.

Bones!

Bones! Image: K. Bone.

People also inevitably ask about human remains – how we identify them, what happens to them, if we’ve ever found bodies – and the answer is, again, that we usually don’t come across them in Christchurch. When we do, there are procedures and policies in place to make sure that they’re dealt with respectfully and carefully.

Artist's representation of Haast's Eagle (awesome) attacking moa (also awesome).

Artist’s representation of Haast’s eagle (terrifying but brilliant) attacking moa (also cool, although slightly less terrifying). Image: John Megahan via Wikimedia Commons.

4)      How do you know this is old?

We’ve addressed this question before here on the blog, to a degree, but it’s one that comes up in the field a lot. The answer varies depending on the object, but is almost always related to deciphering the manufacturing and stylistic clues left on the artefact.

5)   How much is that bottle/plate/pipe/adze/fish-hook worth?

I like to think of this as the Antiques Roadshow question. The thing is that, unlike Antiques Roadshow, a lot of the artefacts that we deal with have very little in the way of monetary value. They’re often broken and/or damaged from the century or more that they’ve spent in the ground, or such commonly found items that they’re not worth anything to collectors. Their value to us is in the information that they provide, through the archaeological context in which they were found, the assemblage that they were part of and the people to whom they belonged.

Even when we do find items that might have some kind of monetary worth, the information value of those artefacts is almost always higher. I can’t remember the last time I looked at an artefact and wondered how much money it would fetch: usually, I’m too busy thinking about who owned it, where it came from and how it can help me figure out what happened on a site. To me, that information is priceless (and so easily lost through fossicking and treasure hunting).

A selection of the various artefacts found in Christchurch over the last three years. Top row from left:

A selection of artefacts found in Christchurch over the last three years. The possible monetary value of these is nothing next to the information they offer about life and people in the past. Image: J. Garland.

6)      What happens to all these artefacts/information?

Well, it depends. All the material we recover from a site is recorded, catalogued and analysed by a trained archaeologist. That information is written up into a report that is then submitted to Heritage New Zealand and interested parties (i.e. the client). Those reports are publicly available from Heritage New Zealand, if anyone is interested. Sometimes, the artefacts are then sent to a museum or similar institution for display. Other times, they are returned to the owner or retained by archaeologists as reference collections. Sometimes, depending on the significance of the material recovered, assemblages may also be held by one of the universities for further research.

7)      How much study did you do to be an archaeologist?

Also phrased as the slightly less diplomatic, “So you went to university to learn how to stand around and watch diggers/learn to use a spade?”

The short answer is, usually, four years or more. Most commercially employed archaeologists will have an Honours degree (four years), many will also have a Masters degree (another 1-2 years) and some will have a PhD (generally another 3-4 years).

The longer answer is that, while digging (and monitoring mechanical excavation of sites) is part of what we do, it’s actually a pretty small part of the overall process and thus a small part of what we learn at university. Our degrees teach us a range of things, from research and analytical techniques to the ethics and principles behind preserving and interpreting the past.

At a more specific level, archaeologists use a range of technological aides, from total stations and GIS (geographic information system) to electronic databases, graphic design programs like Adobe Illustrator and, in some cases, techniques like laser scanning and 3D modelling. We (as a whole, not specifically in Christchurch) also use a wide variety of scientific techniques and methods, including XRF analysis (x-ray fluorescence), radiocarbon dating, chemical residue analysis, DNA sequencing and palynology (pollen analysis), to name a few.

On top of all this, we learn how to interpret the raw data that we’re gathering when we record a building or excavate a site. On one level, this consists of learning how to approach a collection of information and use it to figure out what happened on a site or in a building, from dating that material to determining deposition processes or sequences of activity. Statistical analysis often plays a part in this, as does analysis of spatial patterns and distribution, along with a range of other techniques and tools. On another level,  we also learn how to relate that information back to people, to examine the data and gain an idea of the human behaviour and activities that it represents, always looking for the why and the who and the how of the things we find.

8)      What have you found from the earthquake stuff?

The short answer to this is a lot of stuff. Like, a LOT.

We’ve talked about this a bit before on the blog, but the longer answer is that we’re uncovering the growth of a city, from a small settlement on a swamp to a thriving urban society. We’re finding and recording the physical remnants of Christchurch’s history for the first fifty years, in the individual lives of its inhabitants and the society and culture that they were part of. We’re learning about how people coped with new lives in a new environment; how they maintained connections to the places they came from; how they shaped the development of a city and how that city shaped them; how people built businesses and industry and homes and how those things changed; how Christchurch’s economy developed and functioned during the 19th century; how people lived their lives day to day and how these things are represented in the material culture they left behind, among so, so many other things.

Jessie Garland

* Not that I mean to imply that anyone I work with looks old…just, you know, not adolescent.

French Farm: an archaeologist’s observations*

After a couple of weeks off from the blog, we thought it’d be a good idea to give you a run-down of what we learnt at French Farm. These are preliminary observations only, and could well change as we do more research! In no particular order, here you are.

 

 The ground floor, French Farm house. Image: K. Webb.


The ground floor, French Farm house. Image: K. Webb.

 Circular saw marks on timbers on the south wall of the first floor. Photo: K. Watson.


Circular saw marks on timbers on the south internal wall of the first floor. The house was built in at least two phases, with the first phase built by the French navy in the early 1840s. The timbers from the first phase were pit sawn and those from the second phase were circular sawn.  Image: K. Watson.

 Beaded match-lining like this lined a number of the rooms but the circular saw marks indicated that much of it was a later addition to the house. Photo: K. Watson.


Beaded match-lining like this in Room 7 (with Room 6 visible in the rear) lined a number of the rooms but the circular saw marks indicated that much of it was a later addition to the house. This in turn suggests that the original lining had been replaced. Image: K. Watson.

 The wall between Rooms 1 and 2, looking south from Room 1. Circular saw marks on the wall lining indicated that at least part of this wall was a later addition. Image: K. Watson.


The wall between Rooms 1 and 2, looking south from Room 1. Circular saw marks on the wall lining indicated that at least part of this wall was a later addition. There was once a doorway to the right of the collapsed fireplace but it was boarded up at some stage. Probably after it was boarded up, access to the first floor was moved from its original location (in Room 7) to the right of the collapsed fireplace – it’s just possible to make out the ladder in this image. Image: K. Watson.

 Part of the floor upstairs. The hole at right was probably the original means of accessing the first floor. And the hole would originally have been bigger, as the floorboards at left are circular sawn, unlike the pit sawn floorboards used for the remainder of the first floor (and the ground floor).


Part of the floor upstairs. The hole at right (above Room 7) was probably the original access to the first floor. And the hole would originally have been bigger, as the floorboards at left are circular sawn, unlike the pit sawn floorboards used for the remainder of the first floor (and the ground floor). Image: K. Watson.

 Top: 1860 newspaper. Bottom: 1861 newspaper. These are on the wall between Rooms 1 and 2, next to the fireplace. Image: K. Watson & K. Webb.


Top: 1860 newspaper (yes, sorry, it’s very hard to make out the date on this image). Bottom: 1861 newspaper. These are on the wall between Rooms 1 and 2, right next to the fireplace, and the timbers they are stuck on were circular sawn. This could indicate that there was a circular saw operating in the area by 1860-61. And it could indicate that Phase 2 dates as early as 1860-61. Of course, this is based on the untested assumption that the newspapers were actually stuck on the wall in 1860-61. It’s equally possible that it had been stockpiled and was stuck on at a later date. And don’t forget the potential time delays with shipping material to New Zealand. Image: K. Watson & K. Webb.

Left: window into Room 1, east elevation. Right: door into Room 7, east elevation. Cut marks in the weatherboards indicated that this door and window had effectively switched plans: the window in Room 1 was originally a door and the door into Room 7 was a window.

Left: window into Room 1, east elevation. Right: door into Room 7, east elevation. Cut marks in the weatherboards indicated that this door and window had effectively switched places: the window in Room 1 replaced an original door and the door into Room 7 replaced an original window. Image: K. Watson.

 The stones used as a footing underneath what was originally an external door into Room 1. Photo: K. Watson.


The stones used as a footing underneath what was originally an external door into Room 1. Image: K. Watson.

 The first floor, looking south. The circular saw marks on the dividing wall indicate that it was a later addition. Photo: K. Watson.


The first floor, looking south. The circular saw marks on the dividing wall indicate that it was a later addition, and this upstairs space may originally have been just one room. Image: K. Watson.

 This is a detail of a window frame upstairs, showing that the original window had been replaced. And either at the same time or later, this room had been lined with scrim (that's what all the small nails were for).


This is a detail of a window frame upstairs, showing that the original window had been replaced. And either at the same time or later, this room had been lined with scrim (that’s what all the nails were for). Image: K. Watson.

 Bottles under the floorboards in Room 2. The floorboards on the ground floor are butted, rather than tongue and groove, so I was expecting that we’d find some things under the floor. But small things, like fragments of glass and china, buttons, pins, that sort of thing. We did find that sort of thing, but we also found large bottles, and pieces of cutlery, which are not the sort of thing that’d just fall between the cracks in the floorboards. So, how did they get there? There are a couple of possible explanations: they could have been deliberately buried there before the floor was laid, or the floorboards may have been replaced at some stage. Image: K. Watson.


Bottles under the floorboards, Room 2. The floorboards on the ground floor are butted, rather than tongue and groove, so I was expecting that we’d find some things under the floor. But small things, like fragments of glass and china, buttons, pins, that sort of thing. We did find those small artefacts, but we also found large bottles, and pieces of cutlery, which are not the sort of thing that’d just fall between the cracks in the floorboards. So how did they get there? There are at least a couple of possible explanations: they could have been deliberately buried there before the floor was laid, or the floorboards may have been replaced at some stage. Image: K. Watson.

None of the artefacts we found could be readily identified as French. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t used by the early French occupants of the house, but it does make it difficult to prove. Further, at first glance, none of the artefacts found seemed to date from the 1840s and/or 1850s. Again, this doesn’t mean they weren’t used during the period – many common 19th century artefacts were made for long periods of time.

Even though we didn’t find anything particularly ‘French’ in the way of artefacts, the house itself is clearly not English in origin. It’s the layout that’s the real give away. It’s just so different from the standard central hall with rooms opening off it that we usually see in Christchurch. French Farm house is at least 30 years older than most of the houses we’ve looked at in the city, but even those 1850s houses we’ve recorded still have a central hall – which, when you think about it, is a bit of a waste of space really (and something we’ve moved away from in more recent times). And once you take out the central hall, everything else changes, including the house footprint – French Farm is significantly longer than it is wide. It also changes the flow of people through rooms, meaning you have to pass through one room to get to another – not the case in a house with a central hall. Maybe the logical extension of this is less privacy?

 Excavating in Room 1. Image: K. Watson.


Excavating in Room 1. Image: K. Watson.

The last thing that I learnt is that archaeology is fun! Maybe this seems a silly thing to say. But most of our work takes place on construction sites, surrounded by large diggers and other construction chaos, and – more often than not – we don’t find anything of note. For me personally, I spend most of my time sitting behind a desk, not doing any field archaeology. In either of these circumstances, it’s easy to forget how fascinating and enjoyable the process of simply digging or recording is. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that archaeology is all about learning more about the past, rather than simply recovering information for the sake of it.

Katharine Watson

* With thanks to Stephen Cashmore and David Brailsford for insightful conversations on site.

Allons creuser! Let’s go digging!

Working in archaeology here in New Zealand we most often encounter the material remains of Māori settlement and colonisation by the British Empire in the 19th century. Groups such as the New Zealand Company and the Canterbury Association laid out the blueprint for the shape and style of British colonisation, particularly in urban centres. So the opportunity to examine a different cultural context in Canterbury using archaeological techniques doesn’t come along that often, and when it does we jump at the chance! This weekend the Underground Overground Archaeology team are heading out to Banks Peninsula to help the Akaroa Civic Trust record and preserve an important site related to the French colonial effort in New Zealand.

French Farm house. Image: Jan Cook.

French Farm house. Image: Jan Cook.

French Farm Bay is situated across the harbour from the town of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula. Akaroa, the site of French settlement in the 1840s, is well known for its distinctly French character and several 19th century buildings still survive. In contrast the settlement at French Farm, once more populated than Akaroa, is now represented by a single structure. French Farm house was constructed in the early 1840s by the French navy. Its early date and unique context makes it a special site on Banks Peninsula. Archaeological recording techniques can be especially useful for this kind of site, combining meticulous examination of the built structure with an understanding of the surrounding landscape and the potential for below-ground archaeological remains.

Akaroa in 1866. Image: Buick 1928: 256.

In the 1830s Akaroa Harbour was a frequent stop-over point for European whaling ships.[1] In 1838 Jean François Langlois, the captain of a French vessel, acquired Banks Peninsula from some of the local Ngai Tahu chiefs. Returning to France he campaigned for the formation of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company for the purpose of establishing a French colony in the South Island. The company was given financial backing  by the French Government in the hope that it would help curb British expansion in the Pacific. And so in 1840, 59 colonists set out for New Zealand under the protection of the French navy.

Arriving at Banks Peninsula the French colonists discovered that the British had claimed sovereignty over the South Island under the Treaty of Waitangi, and their dreams of an independent French Colony were shattered. However, they decided to stay and the civilian settlement at Akaroa was established on the east side of the harbour.

 Figure 4. A French map of Akaroa Harbour in 1843. French Farm is shown on the west side of harbour, Akaroa (“Principal établissement français”) on the east side, and English, French and Māori settlement around the harbour

A French map of Akaroa Harbour in 1843. French Farm is shown on the west side of harbour, Akaroa (“Principal établissement français”) on the east side, and English, French and Māori settlement around the harbour.

At the outset of the expedition the French government had agreed that the navy would help to feed the colonists until their settlement was self-sustaining. The Nanto-Bordelaise Company purchased 300 acres in French Farm Bay for use as a farm. Approximately 16 sailors were sent by the navy to clear the land for cultivation. Potatoes, beetroot, cabbages, trees, vines and barley were all planted, and livestock was purchased from Hobart to supplement the farm’s crops. By 1843 the farm had buildings for housing and storage, and a jetty and roads had been constructed. At this time the farm settlement had grown to outnumber Akaroa, with around 150 French naval officers engaged in farm work and scientific research (NZHPT 2007). One of these men recorded details of the farm’s buildings in a letter home. He noted that the farm consisted of two large huts (one for housing crew and the other for an observatory) and 8-10 smaller houses for the officers. French Farm house is probably one of the officers’ residences mentioned in this letter.

French Farm house is the only surviving building in New Zealand built by the French navy. An architectural examination of the building has suggested that it was constructed using a technique known as poteaux en terre, meaning “post-in-ground” (Bowman 2007). This technique was commonly used by French colonists in Canada and the United States of America in the 17 and 18th centuries. Other aspects of the house, such as the use of plain weatherboards, are evocative of 19th century farm buildings in Normandy. Part of our focus this weekend will be examining the construction of French Farm house using buildings archaeology methods. This will allow us to further explore unique building techniques and consider them within their cultural and historical context.

Detail of poteaux en terre construction at Vital St Gemme Beavais house in Missouri, built in 1785. Image: Marsh 1985.

In 1846 the French navy left Banks Peninsula and the farm was entrusted to Emeri de Malmanche, one of the original French settlers. However, in 1849 the Nanto-Bordelaise Company’s interests were purchased by the New Zealand Company and in 1850 the Canterbury Association included the farm in Rural Section 100 of their survey. The section was sold to Joseph Dicken, a settler from Staffordshire. Over the years French Farm was used for dairy farming, timber milling and even a private boy’s school. French Farm house was probably occupied as a residence until c. 1900, and today it is the only structure from the once bustling naval settlement to survive.

This weekend we will be examining and recording the French Farm house and surrounding site using archaeological techniques. We will be posting photographs and videos of our work on the Underground Overground Archaeology facebook page, so check it out if you’re interested in the work we’re doing at this fascinating and important site.

References

Akaroa Civic Trust, n.d. Langlois-Eteveneux House (Museum) [photograph]. [online] Available at: http://www.heritage.org.nz/the-list/details/264. Accessed July 2014.

Anon, 1843. Croquis de la baie d’Akaroa. – Nouvel Zelande. [map]. In: “Les Europeens a la Nouvelle Zealande”, Le Magasin Pittoresque, XI, 47 (November 1843), p. 376. [online] Available at: http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k31426m/f380.image.r=Nouvelle-Zelande.langEN. Accessed March 2014.

Bowman, I., 2007. Conservation plan: French Farm house. Unpublished report.

Buick, T. L., 1928. The French at Akaroa. Wellington: New Zealand Book Depot.

Marsh, J. Q., 1985. Drawing of Poteaux-en-Terre in the Beauvais House in Ste Genevieve MO [drawing]. Historic American Buildings Survey; Record MO-1121. [Online] Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Post_in_ground#mediaviewer/File:Drawing_of_Poteaux-en-Terre_in_the_Beauvais_House_in_Ste_Genevieve_MO.png. Accessed July 2014.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 2007. French Farm House, French Farm Bay, Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, Canterbury: registration report. Unpublished report.

[1]This history of French Farm is summarised from Bowen 2007 unless otherwise stated.

 

Frequently asked questions #1

Training and working as an archaeologist can be an interesting experience, not just because of the work we do, but thanks to the preconceptions and opinions of the people around us. Like so many other professions, archaeology is an extremely broad field of work and study, encompassing all manner of skills, time periods and subject matters. It’s also one that is misrepresented enough in the media that people often have a skewed notion of what it is that we actually do.

So, this week on the blog, we thought we’d have a go at answering some of the more frequently asked questions that have been posed to those of us working here in New Zealand. It will be the first of a couple of posts, since, as it turns out, there are quite a few questions we face on a regular basis.

We’ll start with the big ones:

1)      You’re an archaeologist? Like Indiana Jones*¹?

Actually, no. Not really like him at all. There have been many, many discussions of this in popular culture over the years (including this memorable letter). It’s generally agreed that Indiana Jones is a terrible archaeologist and most archaeologists would make a terrible, and very probably dead, Indiana Jones. The main differences are in comparative methods and objectives: archaeology is ultimately about understanding people in the past, collectively and individually, through ALL the physical traces they leave behind, while Indiana Jones is about the finding and collection of precious objects with little regard for their surrounding context.

Actual archaeology: less whips, pistols and mystical artefacts and more just a whole lot of digging. Image: H. Williams.

Actual archaeology: less whips, pistols and mystical artefacts and more just a whole lot of digging and recording. Image: H. Williams.

2)      That’s so cool! What’s your favourite dinosaur?*²

Similar questions to this include, “Were there many dinosaurs in New Zealand?”, “Oh, cool, like Ross from friends?” and “Found any dinosaur bones lately?”

As many of you will know, palaeontology and archaeology, while they do share some methods and a predilection for physical remnants of the past, are not the same thing. Put very simply, archaeologists focus on the human past, while palaeontologists work with fossils, including dinosaurs, from the more distant past.

Although, it should be noted that the difference between our professions doesn’t mean that archaeologists dislike dinosaurs. My favourite is Archaeopteryx, for the record, followed by actually-not-a-dinosaur Quetzalcoatlus.  A quick survey of the rest of the office tells me that archaeologists are fans of Triceratops, Velociraptor, Saurolophus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, Deinonychus and also-not-a-dinosaur Megalodon.

T-Rex: not the purview of archaeologists, but still awesome. Image:

T-Rex: not the purview of archaeologists, but still awesome. Image: David Monniaux

3)      Archaeology? That’s like rocks and pyramids and stuff, right?

Er, sort of. There’s a bit more to it, really. As those of you who read this blog regularly will know, archaeology is far more varied and complex than just pyramids and rocks. Egyptology is just one small part of our profession and rocks (usually stone tools) are just one of the materials we deal with.

It’s one of my favourite things about archaeology, actually: that it covers all of human history, and thus anything and everything that people have done in the past, be it constructing massive monuments to gods and kings, making important advances in industrial technology, or figuring out how to make better toothbrushes. The infinite variety to be found in people, past and present, will never ever cease to amaze me.

Some of the artefacts found in Christchurch this year. Less pyramids and rocks and more remnants of everyday life. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the artefacts found in Christchurch this year. Less pyramids and rocks and more remnants of everyday life. Image: J. Garland.

4)      What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever found?

Variations on this include, “have you ever found treasure?”, “found any gold?” and “what’s the oldest thing you’ve ever found?”

I’d say that this is probably the question we hear the most. The problem with answering it is that in the course of their careers, most archaeologists will have found a LOT of things, many of which are cool and interesting. Picking just one can be a bit like asking someone to choose their favourite dinosaur (see what I did there?). It’s made even more difficult to answer by the fact that what is amazing to us is not always amazing to other people. The explanation of why an otherwise unremarkable object (like a brick, or a sherd of pottery) is so interesting is usually far longer and much, much, drier than the questioner wanted.

It may not help that, in my experience, this question is usually asked in bars or in the small-talk associated with first meeting someone. Very few people want to hear about the socio-cultural implications of changes in brickmaking in the 19th century in that situation. Or that most of the artefacts we deal with in Christchurch are less than 160 years old and we pretty much never find gold.

As a result, some of us may or may not have taken to answering this question with “a unicorn skull.” Another quick survey of the office suggests that other answers may include “a harmonium”, “a crystal skull”, “lots of stuff”,  “this [insert object] that someone else actually found but I am pretending that I found for the sake of this conversation” and the phrase “well, it depends…”

Moving on to more serious matters…

5)      There’s not that much archaeology in New Zealand though, is there?*

This is one of the more frequent questions asked here in New Zealand and it can be a little dispiriting to be reminded of how many people don’t realise what a rich, interesting and unique archaeological record we have in this country.

From the very first Polynesian settlers, arriving here c. 1300 AD (Jacomb et al. 2014), through to the most recent periods of immigration and settlement, New Zealand has a fascinating and globally significant archaeological record. It may be short, compared to other places in the world (such as our neighbour, Australia), but that lack of time depth is part of what makes it interesting. Archaeologists have used our relatively condensed archaeological record to look at the impact of human settlement on the environment, to better understand patterns of settlement, migration and  trade, motivations for warfare, the processes of social and cultural change, and how people adapt to new social and physical environments (among many, many other things).

Excavations at a 14th century archaeological site in the Catlins. Image: K. Webb.

Excavations at a 14th-16th century archaeological site in the Catlins. Image: K. Webb.

Archaeology in New Zealand is protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, which “defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand” (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga 2014). The modification or destruction of any such site, which includes standing structures, requires the permission of Heritage New Zealand, and usually involves one or more archaeologists recording and salvaging any archaeological features or material found during that process.

As those of you who follow our work here in Christchurch will have realised, this means that there is in fact a lot of archaeology in New Zealand. Even more than that, the wide scope of the work that is being carried out throughout the country has huge potential to add to our understanding of people in the past and their influence on the world around them.

6)      Who pays for all that?

Simplified, there are two main types of archaeological work undertaken in New Zealand: research archaeology, or those investigations carried out by the universities and/or independent researchers, and cultural resource management, carried out by consulting or contracted archaeologists in response to the modification or destruction of sites, as governed by the 2014 act. As a result, there are different methods of paying for that work.

Research archaeology is usually funded through the universities themselves or through research grants such as those provided by the Marsden Fund. Cultural resource management archaeology functions as a ‘polluter pays’ system, in which the authority holder covers the cost of recording and salvaging the archaeological information being lost through the modification or destruction of an archaeological site.

Cultural heritage management archaeology in Christchurch. Image: M. Carter.

Cultural heritage management archaeology in Christchurch. Image: M. Carter.

7)      Huh. Why? What’s the point?

To put it simply? Because our heritage is important. Because understanding where and who and what we’ve come from, as individuals, as a society, as a culture and as a country, is invaluable in understanding where we are now and where we may be in the future.  Because future generations deserve the opportunity to explore that heritage for themselves without wondering why we didn’t do more to save it for them. Because the actions and creations and lives of the people who’ve gone before us deserve to be remembered. Because there are things we learn from the archaeological record that we can’t learn any other way. Because archaeology allows us to expand our horizons, to catch a glimpse of people and places that are so different to our own, yet linked to us through time and across cultures thanks to the things that they left behind.

Because, ultimately, people are important, and at its heart, archaeology is all about people.

 Jessie Garland

*¹ Less frequently, Indiana Jones may be switched out for Lara Croft.
Apparently, palaeontologists often get the same question in reverse and have responded with t-shirts.

 

References

Jacomb, C., Holdaway, R.N., Allentoft, M.E., Bunce, M., Oskam, C.L., Walter,
R., Brooks, E., 2014. High-precision dating and ancient DNA profiling of moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) eggshell documents a complex feature at Wairau Bar and refines the chronology of New Zealand settlement by Polynesians. In Journal of Archaeological Science (2014), doi: 10.1016/j.jas.2014.05.023. [online] Available at www.sciencedirect.com