The archaeology of natural disasters

When people first settled in Aotearoa, they had no idea that they were sitting upon a slice of one of two supercontinents; Gondwanaland. Around eighty-three million years ago this slice we now live on, known to us as Zealandia, broke away. We wouldn’t recognise Zealandia as it was then; most of it is now underwater. The bits which still protrude above sea level is New Zealand. The earth’s crust is still on the move though, which we can see on the surface through earthquakes, volcanoes and smaller geothermal vents (McLauchlan 2014: 7-8). All of these things are familiar to any New Zealander. While I don’t believe earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are events we’ll ever become used to, we now understand why they happen and are better equipped to deal with the aftermath.

Long before I had even stepped foot on the South Island, on 22nd February 2011 at 12.51pm an earthquake, with its epicentre in Lyttelton and a magnitude of 6.3, struck Canterbury (GeoNet 2018). Although we are now able to understand (thanks to modern scholarship) why earthquakes happen, it does not make the loss of life any easier. Unlike the previous earthquake that had struck Canterbury in 2010, this one took the lives of 185 people and had a devastating effect on the city’s infrastructure and landscape. While the Garden City had felt the effect of earthquakes in past, none had quite the same effect as these ones.

An example of damage to the Cathedral by an earlier quake to hit Christchurch in 1888. Photo: Christchurch City Library CCL PhotoCD 3, IMG0059.

Damage to buildings in the CBD, Christchurch following the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Large rock falls in Sumner, Christchurch triggered by the February 2011 earthquake. Photo: GeoNet.

Since nothing with this much of a devastating impact has happened within New Zealand since the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931, how are we supposed to know how to deal with the situation? Well, we don’t really. There is not really a right or wrong answer to this. We, as archaeologists, sit on a cusp of responsibility; to record the archaeology (that is anything pre-1900) for future generations and research whilst the demolition and regeneration of the city takes place, but also to do so quickly and not hinder these vital works whilst providing the best advice we can. I wasn’t here when the earthquakes took place but almost seven years on from the last severe earthquake of 2011, I find myself working on earthquake projects. The city is reinventing itself and will be for the foreseeable future. We’ve spoken on the blog previously about the challenges we face working in archaeology during natural disasters, but I want to take a more theoretical approach to disaster archaeology today. Theory plays a huge role in our interpretations within archaeology, but we tend to leave that for the reports and scholarly papers. I wanted to share with you today the theory I’ve applied whilst studying the impact of earthquakes and (especially) their aftermath.

First on the scene: archaeologists and tanks in the CBD following the February 2011 quake. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

So, here’s the technical bit: as archaeologists here in New Zealand we work under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act. This however was superseded by the Canterbury Earthquake (Historic Place Act) Order 2011 following the earthquakes. This order meant that the process of application for an archaeological authority was much quicker, and we were able to fulfil that moral obligation of not slowing down works.

Much of the CBD resembled this post quakes. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

The historical facades, that have for so long been associated with Christchurch by many, suffered extensive damage during the 2011 quake and had to be demolished. Photo: Matt Hennessey.

Often when we think of the archaeology of natural disasters our minds jump to the destruction of Pompeii or Pleistocene extinction. But what many forget, including archaeologists, is we all live through natural disasters and the archaeology that they create . In fact, here in Christchurch we have lived through/are still living through such a unique archaeological experience it can be difficult to know what to do with all the information. As it is a requirement by law to have an archaeological authority before altering or removing an archaeological site, you can imagine how much of Christchurch this would have affected. The entire CBD is considered a high risk zone for pre-1900 activity. A positive (for lack of a better word) is the huge wealth of information we’ve been able to retrieve about Christchurch and its formative years during post-earthquake works. Following the initial demolition of unsafe buildings much of this debris has been removed, exposing the 19th and 20th century layers in the archaeological record, which we have recorded as works have happened to avoid this information being lost forever. American archaeologist Shannon Lee Dawdy, who worked as an advisor post-Hurricane Katrina,  rightly argued that the moving of debris, the burying of past living surfaces and the rearranging of the landscape post disaster exposes the relationship between people and their landscape (2006: 720). Here in Christchurch, archaeologists were on the ground and in the red zone immediately. I’m able to talk to my colleagues here and find out how the major and minor decisions regarding the removal of debris and dirt changed the landscape of the city. For the past seven years archaeologists have been working constantly to keep up with the speed of the city’s demolition and rebuild, and now we’re making the transition from earthquake based work back to the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

“The Latin root for resilience is salire, to jump or spring.” – Hayward 2013: 37

When disasters strike a community, the challenges that come with this test more than just our physical resilience, but our economy, democracy, and our emotions (Hayward 2013: 36). A topic that we don’t talk about too often on this blog is the emotional aspect of archaeology. Most people become archaeologists because they want to understand the history of the everyday men and women, not just those in the history books (or at least this was a big factor for me). Through the study of phenomenology (the study of consciousness and direct experiences) and taphonomy (the study of the formative and disturbance processes effecting the archaeological record) I have been piecing together the changes in Christchurch and the impact that has had on the people, specifically their emotional experience and how, through the changing landscape, we’re able to express the way we feel. Emotions can, however, be hard to interpret as (in most cases) we are unable to leave an imprint of our emotions within the archaeological record that will one day excavated or recorded by  future archaeologists. One way we can do this however, is to memorialise the event that took place and the life that was lost. Most scholars agree that the critical ingredient of a disaster is the victims (Torrence & Grattan 2002: 5). To remember these victims’ reaction to disaster is one way we do this; for example we see monuments across the world to commemorate those who lost their lives in war. As material reminders of the past, these monuments form part of the archaeological record, as much as any of the buildings and artefacts left behind. Within Christchurch we can see the poignant 185 white chairs, including one baby seat. This is a temporary art installation by artist Pete Majendie, but there has been an outcry to keep the chairs as they have become symbolic in remembering the victims and the quake. One idea is to permanently install the chairs, each different and individual, at the site of the CTV building where so many lost their lives in an almost ‘ground zero’ nature (185 Empty Chairs, 2016). A more permeant feature to recently be added is the Canterbury Earthquake Memorial Wall, which has the names of those who lost their lives etched into the stone. This is an enduring way to remember those that lost their lives and enters their names into the archaeological record, making our emotions clear for years to come through these commemorations. In fact, the memorial is a fantastic example of how the landscape was deliberately altered to create this monument as they significantly excavated the river bank for the wall.

The temporary art installation 185 Empty Chairs, which is beginning to take a more permanent place in the ‘new’ Christchurch. Photo: Instagram.

Before: the riverbank where the Earthquake Memorial now stands. Photo: Megan Hickey

During: the redesign of the riverbank. Photo: Megan Hickey.

After: The Christchurch Earthquake Memorial, part of the Otakaro Avon River Precinct project opened 2011, where the names of those who lost their lives are to be permanently remembered. Photo: Kathy Davidson.

The landscape of Christchurch changed so quickly that people became lost in their own city, quite literally not able to find their way around, as the landmarks they had once used as guideposts no longer stood. I, for example, never saw the ‘old’ Christchurch that locals speak so fondly of. It’s a strange thought that two people in the same city can have such different relationships with the same place. I have experienced a modern city blossom from destruction, however many people remember the ‘old’ city and its subsequent demolition. Even a year and a half ago when I moved to the city, there were still huge areas of debris and buildings still being pulled down. Within recent months it feels like the rebuild has really picked up momentum, and it’s quite honestly an exciting city to be in. To have played (a small) role in that process has been an amazing experience. We’re living in a city that faced crisis, but rebuilt itself unlike so many ancient civilisations where natural disaster often resulted in the dramatic end of a culture (Dawdy 2006: 720). Is that due to the times we live in and the technology we have at our disposal? Or is it due to the socio-political structure we live in, where the rest of New Zealand came to the aid of Christchurch? Or is it due to a more resilient people? My guess would be a mixture of all three.

Kathy Davidson

References

185 Empty Chairs [online] Available at: https://www.185chairs.co.nz/about-185-empty-chairs/ [Accessed July 2018]

Christchurch City Libraries [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/ [Accessed July 2018]

Dawdy, S.L. (2006) The Taphonomy of Disaster and the (Re)Formation of New Orleans. American Anthropologist. Vol. 108(No. 4): 719-730.

GeoNet [online] Available at: https://www.geonet.org.nz/ [Accessed July 2018]

Hayward, B.M. (2013) Rethinking resiliences: reflections on the earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2010 and 2011. Ecology and Society. Vol. 18(No. 4): 36-42.

McGuire, W.J., Griffiths, P.L, Hancock, P.L. and Stewart, I.S. (2000) The Archaeology of Geological Catastrophes, The Geological Society: London.

McLauchlan, G. (2014) A Short History of New Zealand. David Bateman Ltd: Auckland.

Torrence, R. and Grattan, J. (2002) Natural Disasters and Cultural Change. Routledge: London.

O flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again? Well, maybe in Christchurch!

Christchurch is rightly or wrongly traditionally thought of as an English city, but at every turn we can see a glimpse of England’s arch enemy…the Scots. While they may now technically be at peace, they do still meet annually on the battlefield (ok, pitch) in a fight to the death (ok, 80 minutes of rugby) to claim the Calcutta Cup. It’s very serious business. This national identity notion that we all subscribe to is a funny thing. The majority of us are extremely proud to be the nationality that we are. I, for example, am very proud to be Scottish and even though we don’t have the strongest rugby team, I will always fiercely support them. And quite frankly, who wouldn’t be proud to be from a country whose national animal is unicorn. Yes, that’s right, a mythical beast. In our defence unicorns were thought to be real in Western countries until the early 1800s.

In my (almost) two years so far in New Zealand one of the main things I’ve picked up on is the way people are so passionately proud of being Kiwi, but also of the different cultures that have combined to make New Zealand what it is today. We don’t have to search too in depth into Christchurch’s history before we see a glimpse of that Scottish influence. Riccarton? Named after the parish that the Deans brothers came from in Ayrshire, Scotland. The River Avon? Named after their grandfather’s stream on his farm back in Scotland. That’s two very distinctive features of Christchurch, that the majority of us will think about or talk about on a daily basis, with origins half the world away. The Deans brothers were among the first to settle in Christchurch after being less than impressed with their assigned land in Wellington and Nelson. Having moved to New Zealand by myself in the modern day and age where I can FaceTime my family or hop on a flight home fairly regularly, I have the upmost respect for the earliest of settlers who travelled via boat and more often than not would not see their family again. It is however almost a bit of a mistake that the Deans ended up here in what was to become Christchurch, but a happy one at that. It is at Riccarton Bush that would be the site of their first farm and where the suburb of Riccarton would get its name. In the image below we can see some of the earliest buildings of Christchurch, built by the brothers. A far cry from the Riccarton we know today.

The stackyard at Riccarton c. 1860 showing a barn (left), the ploughman’s cottage (centre), and Deans Cottage (right). Image: Orwin 2015: 115.

Another set of Scottish brothers who made a huge contribution to Christchurch are Peter and David Duncan, who founded their business P & D Duncan Ltd in Christchurch. You might recognise the name as the business only ceased  operations in 1986, or because one of their 20th century buildings branded with “P & D DUNCAN LTD” can still be seen on St Asaph Street ( pictured just below). The pair contributed to the development of New Zealand agriculture through their foundries which, as previously mentioned, operated up until the late 20th century (Kete Christchurch, 2018).

Still in use today! Although not as a foundry as the Duncan brothers had originally intended. Image: Kete Christchurch.

The earliest immigrants were quite obviously bringing their skills to Christchurch and establishing businesses using said skills in order to better themselves. It is, therefore, a little surprising that when the Christchurch Drainage Board began their mammoth task of building a sewer system to support the growing population in 1878, they opted to import the sewer pipes all the way from Scotland rather than sourcing them locally. The earthenware pipes, branded with “J BINNIE / GARTCOSH”, were shipped directly from Glasgow (Press 14/12/1878: 2, Star 26/8/1879: 3). Understandably this annoyed the ratepayers somewhat –  if there were local businesses who could supply the goods, why did they need to fork out to get the pipes shipped from quite literally half the world away? (Star 29/5/1880:3). Predictably, not all the pipes made it to New Zealand in one piece.

Above: The J. Binnie / Gartcosh makers mark. Below: Not all of the pipes appear to have made it in one piece, take note of that mighty crack. Image: Hamish Williams

When thinking about the English we often think about tea as their national drink, but what about the Scots? Whisky, quite naturally. I was introduced to it at a young age in an attempt to get me to stop crying while I was teething…and I’ve been hooked ever since! Just kidding, following my dabble as a toddler, I waited until 18 to enjoy this Scottish tradition. We find whisky bottles, along with other types of alcohol bottles, fairly regularly in Christchurch (not that I’m suggesting anything about Cantabrian drinking habits!). This whisky bottle found in Victoria Square had an embossing on the base reading “JOHN STEWART & Co / KIRKLISTON”, which immediately indicates that the bottle originally contained Scottish Whisky made in the Kirkliston distillery in West Lothian, Scotland. The Kirkliston distillery was first established in 1795 and went through several owners before Stewart and Co. took over in 1855, installing a Coffey still and converting it to a primarily grain-based distillery. In 1877, John Stewart and Co. were one of the six Scottish whisky distillers to form the Distiller’s Company Ltd., who continued in business well into the 20th century. We can even easily assign the dates 1855 until 1877 for production of this particular bottle (Townsend 2015:125-127).

John Stewart and Co. whisky bottle, dating back to the early days of Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu

The Scottish countryside was even celebrated through romantic imagery on ceramics. A pattern aptly named ‘Scotch Scenery’ depicts a Scottish highland shepherd and shepherdess resting at the foot of a tree. The highland landscape, with stone cliffs, waterfalls, and trees, is visible behind the couple (Transferware Collector’s Club 2005-2018). Ceramics patterns are often used to depict (often quite idealised) images of people, places and activities for mass consumption. Whoever owned this vessel may have been a proud Scot themselves, dreaming of home, or just someone with very good taste.

A Scottish lass and laddie reclining in the highland landscape – a lovely little print on a ceramic found in central Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

And to end my ramblings on Scotland in Christchurch I can’t think of a better artefact. As I’ve said in a previous post, one of my favourite things to find on site is clay pipes. Often they’re stamped with “EDINBURGH” or “GLASGOW” with the makers name as well (I once even found one embossed with “DAVIDSON / GLASGOW” – us Davidsons get everywhere). But these two examples are a little bit special. They feature our national symbol, the thistle! While the English have the rose and Kiwis have the fern, we have a spikey (yet beautiful) thistle. The patriotic motifs became increasingly popular during the 19th century as manufacturers began to cater for “ethnic and national sentiments” (Bradley 2000: 112). Similar to the way I wear my Scotland rugby shirt (emblazoned with the thistle) with pride today, some of the earliest settlers may have smoked their thistle clad pipe with a similar sort of feeling. Now there’s a nice thought.

Clay smoking pipes decorated with the thistle motif found in Christchurch city centre. Image: J. Garland.

A huge thank you to my colleagues at UOA for sharing their Scottish stories and finds of Christchurch with me.

Kathy Davidson

References

Bradley, C., 2000. Smoking Pipes for the Archaeologist. In Karklins, K. (Ed.) Studies in Material Culture Research, p. 104-133. Society for Historical Archaeology, Pennsylvania.

Kete Christchurch, 2018. P & D Duncan Ltd. [online] Available at: http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/site/topics/show/1950-p-and-d-duncan-ltd#.Wyhva6l9gnU [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Orwin, J., 2015, Riccarton and the Deans Family: History and Heritage. David Bateman: Auckland.

Press. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

Christchurch City Libraries, 2018. Riccarton Bush (Pūtaringamotu), Riccarton House, and Deans Cottage. [online] https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/riccarton-bush/ [Accessed 19 June 2018].

Star. [online] Available at: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ [Accessed June 2018].

Townsend, B., 2015. Scotch Missed: The Original Guide to the Lost Distilleries of Scotland. Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd., Britain.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2018. Scotch Scenery [online] Available at: http://www.transcollectorsclub.org/ [Accessed June 2018].

Picture perfect – a gallery of archaeologist’s art

Today we would like to take you through some art work created by our team over the years. But this isn’t for your local charity art auction – these images illustrate the archaeological process we undertake on a daily basis. Long time followers of the blog and Facebook page (and any other archaeologists keeping tabs out there) might be familiar with some aspects of this process. However, the extent of the work that goes into an archaeological site from A to D (or Z if a particularly tricky site) is not something we explore often. Part of the reason for this is it often requires quite a bit of boring paperwork and long explanations of legislation. In order to avoid the elements of the process which might put you to sleep, here is generalised version of the typical archaeological process with pretty pictures alongside.

Step 1: Assessment of the project area

Before a single trowel goes into the ground, proposed earthworks which have the potential to disturb any recorded or yet to be recorded pre-1900 archaeological sites must go through an archaeological assessment. This assessment forms part of the paperwork required to apply for an archaeological authority (the legal document that allows earthworks to take place while protecting and/or mitigating damage for any archaeological material exposed) from Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The risk of encountering archaeological sites, the possible sites types located in the project area and the impact of the works on potential sites are all included in the assessment. In order to assess these aspects, our historical researchers go to great lengths to source and uncover as much of the historical background of the property section or area which will be subjected to works. Much of this work focuses on historical sites of the 19th century as these types of sites form most of the work we undertake. If the historian is lucky they might encounter well-documented suburbs, families and buildings – making this part of the process relatively straight forward. Other projects may require many hours of painstaking research into archives, attempts to reconcile contradictory land parcels and transfers, exclamations over insufficient records and over-consumption of tea and coffee.

In the images below, we have a couple of colourful illustrations drawn by one of the resident historians. These drawings were done to assist the process of teasing out where the relevant historical occupation is located on a larger section. In an ideal world, this information would be neatly filed away in an easily accessible online resource – although in that world the robots may have already taken over our jobs if things were that easy.

An overlay of a land parcel subdivision on an aerial photograph with additional annotations…all to get to the bottom of where the house was located. Image: L. Mearns.

A colour coded sketch of a town section – useful for working out how subdivisions correspond to certificates of title. Image: L. Mearns.

Step 2: Field work

Granted the authority process went smoothly and the paperwork is all in order, it’s time for the works to begin. Our job as field archaeologists mostly deals with mitigation for works that have to take place such as demolition of buildings, new building construction, service repairs and so on. The fantastic work undertaken in the assessment process means the field archaeologist is pretty well prepared for what could be encountered during the works. Projects which have visible, often above ground archaeological sites (such as historic buildings or other structures) usually involve pre-recording of the archaeology before any work impacting the site. The images below show some of the notes and illustrations taken by one of our field archaeologists during the recording of a rather ornate building.

A rather elegant sketch of an ornate window. Useful for later reference and adding a touch of class to the field notebook. Image: K. Webb

This one could almost adorn an illuminated manuscript. Almost. Image: K. Webb.

I think someone missed their higher calling as an artist – look at that shading work on this sketch of a window dating to 1879. Image: K. Webb.

But until we perfect our ground penetrating sunglasses, we can never be too sure what will or won’t be uncovered below ground. Recording of below ground features, whether early Māori ovens, rubbish pits or brick barrel drains, must be recorded according to standard archaeological practice. This process often involves to-scale drawings such as site plans showing the locations of the recorded features, specific illustrations of complicated or noteworthy features and detailed drawings of layers of soil and features (known as stratigraphic drawings). The images below were drawn onsite during works and show examples of each type of drawing mentioned above.

A rather large but very neat site plan of historic house site, showing the location of the earthworks and recorded archaeological features. Every pile in its place! Image: R. Geary Nichol.

When your feature is so large it takes nine separate pieces of paper to record. This was one large brick floor recorded on a central city project. Image: H. Williams.

This stratigraphic drawing (featuring multiple layers of cultural material, large ovens and scattered artefacts) is a bit of a work in progress but demonstrates how complicated this recording can be. Image: T. Anderson and H. McCreary.

Step 3: Interpretation and reporting

At this stage all the works associated with the project are complete and the archaeologist can relax in the sun (or the June snow as it were) with a cold beer and contemplate the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Or at least that’s the fantasy after extensive recording and excavation in the field. The reality is that an archaeologist’s work is never done! All the artefacts, drawings and notes need to be ordered, analysed and turned into a report. Aside from being a requirement under the archaeological authority, the production of a report stands as a record of the work that was done, the archaeology that was exposed and the interpretations of the archaeologist/artefact analyst/other specialists. Such a record not only enriches our understanding of the past but also becomes a part of the historical record of the site in its own right (and is hopefully of great use to future researchers). Depending on the extent of the archaeological material found during the works, the report can be as labour intensive as the previous steps of archaeological process, requiring digitisation of the drawings produced onsite, detective-like interpretation of the features and analysis of the artefacts (sometimes hundreds, if not thousands of them!). The artefact analysis in particular is an important part of the process as we can often draw a lot of information about the date, spatial relationship of features and occupation from the artefacts found. This information can confirm, add to or contradict the historical research, and sometimes the archaeologist’s onsite interpretations. These post-field aspects of a recorded site are like a puzzle – we try to put the big picture together with the pieces that are available to us. Sometimes it’s a 50 or 100 piece puzzle, sometimes it feels more like the most difficult puzzle in the world – we don’t really get to choose.

Sometimes this interpretation process needs a few visual aids. The images below have been drawn by our artefact analysts to help understand the relationship between different archaeological deposits on a site and to assist with recognising the different features of an artefact.

Working out the spatial relationship between different archaeological deposits from the information recorded onsite and from the artefact analysis. Multiple depositions can be quite the headache. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

A lot of different colours and patterns went into this interpretation sketch. Sometimes it takes a bit of creative colouring to make sense of the archaeology and brighten our day. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Who knew there were so many different parts to a shoe, aside from a cobbler I guess. Image: J. Garland.

Lovely teacup handle types. Image: J. Garland.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your digital sojourn through our gallery of archaeological creations and have learned a bit more about the work we do behind the scenes of all those glamorous photographs. We may even be able to start a side business creating high end art after this…or at least deserve some of the gallery wine and cheese.

 

Megan Hickey

We dig cats

Whether you share your home with one or not, they say that you’re either a cat person or a dog person. Hamish’s mid-week ‘hands up if you’re a dog person or a cat person’ office poll revealed that most of us here at Underground Overground Archaeology are cat people, and the majority of us have furry four-legged friends at home that love us (or just love our ability to open cat biscuit bags and jelly meat tins for them). Why do archaeologists dig cats so much? Perhaps because cats are both ANCIENT and MAGICAL. As if the internet didn’t already have enough cat content, here’s our long overdue cat archaeology blog. What more can I say? Meow Meow Meow.

The mandatory Grumpy Cat internet meme. Image: https://www.instagram.com/p/nY-DSzk5Ck/

Ancient Cat

DNA studies suggest that the domestic cat (Felis catus) emerged as a distinct and separate species from their ancestors – the African wild cat (Felis silvestris lybica) in the Middle East something like 10,000 years ago. From here they spread out across the globe, travelling alongside us humans as we explored and settled new lands (Marchini 2016). Dogs have been [hu]man’s best friend for longer than cats (about 15,000 years) and, although it’s not a race folks, dogs did in fact make it to Aotearoa New Zealand long before cats did, in the 13thcentury with their East Polynesian peoples (it is not recorded whether these kurī dogs made the trip half-hanging out the window of the waka the whole way).

It is generally agreed that cats sort of domesticated themselves when we decided to settle down and become farmers at the beginning of the great ‘Agricultural Revolution’. We started growing and storing grain and this attracted rats and mice, which in turn attracted into our farming settlements the wild cats for an easy feed. It was a mutually beneficial relationship – we got pest control and they got full bellies. They have stuck around with us ever since.

Sacred to the people of ancient Egypt, killing a cat was a crime punishable by death, and after your cat died, you’d shave off your eyebrows to let everyone know you missed your moggie. Cats were mummified, just like people were, to allow them passage to the afterlife, and to show respect to the cat goddess ‘Bastet’. This culture of cat worship meant that there would eventually be thousands, if not millions of mummified cats in Egypt. Towards the end of the 19thcentury these were being exported to England in great quantities to be pulverized into ‘mummy manure’ – a potash rich fertiliser that was reasonably cheap at about £4 a ton. (South Canterbury Times 26/4/1890: 3). I bet this magical ancient cat powder made the potatoes grow big.

Mummified cat – ancient Egypt, 2000-100 BCE. Image: Science Museum, London. CC BY 4.0.

Ship cat

Because they were so good at catching vermin, cats have been carried on ships since ancient times, and it was ship cats that would first make it to New Zealand. Cats are important at sea because they offer crew companionship and a sense of home. Captain James Cook had cats on board the Endeavour, and cats would also have been on board the different sealing, whaling, and trading vessels that began to visit New Zealand waters in increasing numbers from the late 18thcentury onwards. Sadly history rarely records the names of these pioneering, sea-legged cats.

Convoy, the ship’s cat aboard HMS Hermione. Convoy slept in his own little hammock – how cute is that. Sadly, Convoy perished in 1942 along with 87 of his crew mates after the light cruiser he served on was torpedoed in the Mediterranean by the German submarine U-205. Rest in peace, little Convoy, rest in peace. Image: courtesy Imperial War Museum (Image A6410).

House Cat

Like many 19thcentury towns and cities, early Christchurch had its fair share of problems with rodent infestations, so keeping a household cat was a good way of keeping the vermin population down. In addition, everyone knows that regular cat cuddles keep the black dog at bay. It’s hard to say how many cats there were in early Christchurch, though they were certainly common enough pets by the 1880s that the proper way to care for them should be the subject of an 1884 newspaper article.

Although adept hunters capable of catching their own food, cats need to be fed regularly by their humans to keep them healthy and happy. They should be fed at least once a day, but preferably twice, on a diet of at the very least bread and milk, or potatoes mashed up in milk, or potatoes mashed up with gravy. Pussy cat is healthiest when she gets meat at least once a day, and fish is a good treat, especially if pussy cat is sick. Horse-flesh is ok sometimes, but too much will have a laxative effect. Pussy cat must always have access to a saucer of clean water, and this should be replaced every morning – cats like their water fresh. Cats also need access to grass to chew on – if none is available to the city cat, some should be pulled and placed between two bricks in the scullery, where here it should keep fresh for a week. Most importantly, pussy cat’s food should be nice and clean, as clean as the dish it is served on (Lyttelton Times 23/8/1884: 6).

This pit (at top) containing exclusively the bones of 34 rats (at bottom) which was found on a Victoria Street site suggests that 19th century Christchurch once had a vermin problem of epic proportions. Both images: Hamish Williams.

Ceramic cat figurine found on a Lyttelton site. Image: Maria Lillo Bernabeu.

We have found quite a few cats on archaeological sites in Christchurch, and there have also been a few cats that have also found us on archaeological sites. The cats that have shown up on our sites (without correct PPE mind you) have been mostly pretty helpful with our investigations, but in true cat fashion, only when it suits them.

Rubbish pit feature half sectioned by cat. The excavation field notes that this cat wrote up about this feature were somewhat illegible. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

This skinny cat with the David Bowie eyes showed up on one of my Lyttelton sites a couple of years back. He helped me record the stratigraphy, but only in exchange for all the bacon out of my paleo salad. In the end, he stuck around not much longer than I ended up sticking to my grain-free fad diet. Image: Hamish Williams.

Before it was demolished in 2014, Kirsa recorded this category 2 Heritage New Zealand listed convent building in Rangiora. A number of the corner bricks around the main entrance of this 1907 building had little kitty paw print impressions on them. Not dissimilar to the kitty paw prints left on the 1st century AD Roman tiles that archaeologists found in Nottinghamshire, check out a picture of it here. Image: Kirsa Webb.

Of all the cats that we have found on archaeological sites, none have been found in discrete deposits that we could identify as representing intentional cat burials. I’ve dug up a dog that had been buried out the back of an old hotel (we named this pub-dog Barclay) and I helped dig up a dog that had been buried next to a ditch behind an old foundry (we named this dog Rusty). But we haven’t yet found any deliberate cat burials. All of the cat remains we have found have been the dried up and naturally mummified or completely skeletonized remains of cats which had crawled in underneath old buildings and died. At the best of times it’s pretty much impossible to tell how long they had been there. Regardless, the location where these moggies expired I plot on the site plan, in addition to the location at the back of the section where I formally lay them to rest. Rest in peace anonymous house cat from the past, rest in peace.

This naturally mummified cat was one of the first I found in Christchurch, underneath a house in Addington. I gave him a proper burial at the back of the section, and named him Max – the Cat Warrior. Image: Hamish Williams.

This one-legged articulated cat skeleton I found last August underneath and 1860s dwelling on Kilmore Street. He can’t have possibly crawled in under there with only one leg, leading me to conclude that his other three legs had been taken away post-mortem by rats. Image: Hamish Williams.

Rest in peace, one-legged cat. Rest in peace. Image: Hamish Williams.

Clever Cats

Not just household pets and vermin catchers in 19thcentury Christchurch, cats were also, for a short time, stage spectacles. Between June and early August 1897 William and Musgrove’s ‘Matsa Vaudeville Company’ toured New Zealand, performing for the people of Christchurch with a six-night season at the Theatre Royal. Star of the show was Europe’s renowned ‘Cat King’ Mr Leoni Clarke and his menagerie of performing cats, rats, mice, and canaries. Clarke was evidently something of a Dr Doolittle, and in his early career went by the name of ‘The Professor’ (I couldn’t find out if this was just his early stage name or if Mr Clarke had actually been a zoology professor). So popular was the show expected to be, that special late night tram services were put on to all the suburbs during the season so that all patrons would be able to get home afterwards (Star 3/7/1897: 6).

Star of the 1897 Matsa Vaudeville Company: Mr Leoni Clarke – ‘The Cat King’. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22685244. Ref: Eph-B-VARIETY-1897-01-1.

Contemporary descriptions of Clark’s animal show suggest it really was something to behold. The cats and monkeys first held a hurdle race, before the cats tightrope-walked a pole ‘thickly studded with canaries, mice, and white rats’. The cats and monkeys then jumped through burning hoops, before the cats entertained the audience with a boxing match. Clarke was perhaps most famous for pioneering the ‘parachuting cat’ act. The cat climbs up a long rope suspended from the ceiling to reach a basket with parachute. At the given signal, the cat descends down by parachute safely into Clarke’s arms (Taranaki Herald 19/6/1897: 2). I don’t know about you, but I’d pay top dollar to see that.

Are Cats easy to train? “There is no animal I know of half so hard to train as a cat” said the Professor. Cats are very scarey. How do you accustom them to the audience? “ Why, that’s easy enough,” replied the Professor. “ I rehearse them at first before a gang of roughs with orchestra accompaniment. The roughs make noise enough, and after a few months the cats don’t mind an audience any more than I do.” How well do they stand the show life? “Not very well. They are continually dying, and there are times when the whole troupe will get the sulks.” Do you ever get scratched? The Professor replied by holding up both hands. They were simply covered with scratches. “They can’t hurt me by scratching,” said the Professor. “I’m tough” (Lyttelton Times 19/5/1891: 2).

Clarke was not the first of Europe’s famous 19thcentury animal trainers, nor would he be the last. Certainly there was good money in training and showing cats – Clarke later reckoned he made up to £100 a week from his cat show (Wanganui Chronicle18/6/1917: 6). The cat thing must have gotten old pretty quick though, because by December 1898 Clarke had seemingly given up on cats and was instead touring his boxing kangaroo around the London music halls (New Zealand Times 3/12/1898: 1).

Space Cat

According to some ancient astronaut theorists, cats are magical creatures that were worshipped as gods in Ancient Egypt because (just like pineapples) they are not of this world. Although the extraterrestrial origins of cats certainly cannot be ruled out, I am unaware of any firm archaeological evidence to support such a theory (and I’ve certainly not found any supporting archaeological evidence myself). Knowing how smart and secretive cats can be, I don’t think that they would give away much in the way of clues if indeed they were from outer space (but do check out this video). Regardless, just in case cats are from out of this world and they indeed have a grand plan in store for us, let us always be kind to, and show respect for the cats, and indeed all other animals, in life and in death.

Muncho the space cat (2016-2018) and 19th century salt-glazed sewer pipes. Rest in peace space cat, rest in peace. Image: Hamish Williams.

Hamish Williams

References

Marchini, L. 2006. Of mousers and men: The archaeology of the Domestic Cat. Current Archaeology 318. [Online. Available at:] https://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/features/archaeology-of-the-domestic-cat.htm. [Accessed 25/05/2018].

Lyttelton Times. [online]. Available at http://papaerspast.natlib.govt.nz

New Zealand Times. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

South Canterbury Times. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Star. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Taranaki Herald. [online]. Available at http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz

Hotels, what versatile places!

It’s been a busy month for Underground Overground Archaeology as we’ve been actively involved in New Zealand Archaeology Week 2018 running displays, historical tours, and talks – all of them highly successful thanks to history and archaeology lovers across the country!

Since we love Christchurch historical archaeology, a tribute to hotels is in order. These are spaces which were witness to the everyday life of both visitors and residents in the 19th and early 20th century, places in which the public and private sphere merged. This blog ties in with two events which took place during Archaeology Week 2018. An exhibition at the South Library displaying artefacts from hotels in Christchurch and Lyttelton held over the last month (perhaps you checked it out!). Also, a fantastic new Heritage Trail App was released during Archaeology Week named ‘Public Houses, Private Lives’. It is available for download from app stores and gives you the chance to discover some of the central Christchurch hotels for yourself. So, there are no excuse to get into it! Easy peasy! In keeping with the theme of hotels, today we’ll track down some distinctive aspects and activities that happened in the Christchurch hotels throughout the Victorian era… Righty-ho!

Observer 30/04/1910: 16. I couldn’t start without an image as ‘suite-able’ as this one! No comment from the Gender and Feminist Archaeologist…except perhaps to say that this is an illustrative example of the male perspective.

Hotels in mid-late 19th century not only offered accommodation and entertainment to residents and visitors, they were a central hub for the community (for better or for worse). As establishments with bars or pubs, alcohol could be provided cheaply and in copious quantities to patrons.

A variety of alcohol bottles recovered from the Occidental Hotel, where the alcohol bottles made up half of the artefacts found! All different shapes and sizes to cover all sort of consumer tastes: black beer, wine, porter, stout and other spirit or liquor bottles. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Archaeologically, we can certainly attest to the fact that alcohol was widely consumed at hotels as it forms much of the tangible evidence derived from the finds. Either dumped at the rear of the sections, thrown away into an open ditch or even accumulated underneath the dwelling. The Wheatsheaf Hotel was no exception. It was built by John Shand and Herbert Coupe in 1865. The men were granted a general license for premises, but they neglected to take it up within the prescribed time. The license was cancelled, and they had to reapply (whoops!). They didn’t waste their time in obtaining alcohol though. Lots of artefacts were found under the floor, dominated by a huge quantity of bottle corks, indicating that the patrons of the hotel certainly enjoyed a drink (or two). It’s worth noting that some of the alcohol bottles uncovered had been discarded whole and unexpectedly still sealed.

Top: Heaps of corks! Bottom: Sealed bottle! Specifically, Boord’s Gin. Joseph Boord was a distiller, who became famous for the Old Tom style of gin (Stephenson 2016). He first registered his ‘cat and barrel’ trademark for Old Tom gin in 1849. The trademark featured a cat sitting on top of a wooden cask. Boord stated that this was a pun referencing the ‘Old Tom’ in the name of the gin, which was named after a man called Thomas Chamberlain. Joseph Boord was still in business in 1903, when the company defended the trademark against a rival distillery. Image: C. Dickson.

Historically, local newspapers recorded a variety of stories of drunken and disorderly behaviour that resulted from such easy access to alcohol, including sporadic burglaries, drowning, assaults and murders, to name a few.

Criminal activity at 19th century hotels. Clockwise from left: Observer (6/04/1907: 12), Grey River Argus (14/10/1885: 2) and Press (14/07/1876: 3).

Drinking went hand in hand with other activities, like smoking, or games such as billiards, skittles and dominoes. The presence of clay pipes on hotel sites may be evidence for the social side of pipe smoking, or an indication of providing ‘home comforts’ to hotel guests. In regard to gambling, the City Hotel became famous for (ostensibly) having the best billiard room in New Zealand. The Caversham Hotel, in addition to being an accommodation house and pub, also provided games such as billiards and skittles (an early form of bowling). During the 1880s the hotel had an outdoor skittle ground, which was the site of several competitive matches during the decade (Star 31/01/1885: 2).

Left: Clay smoking pipes stems from the Oxford Hotel site made by Charles Crop, a London pipe manufacturer operating during the 19th century. His pipes are commonly found on archaeological sites in New Zealand and Australia (Ayto 1999: 14, Brassey 1991: 30, Macready et al. 1990: 57). Image: J. Garland. Right: Cutty smoking pipe and a clay pipe decorated with a three-masted sailing ship (most likely a clipper) and an anchor looped with rope on opposite sides of the bowl. Image: C. Dickson.

There is no archaeological record of billiards or skittles but of dominoes instead! Playing pieces consisted of a bone face and a thicker wooden backing. The game of dominoes was a popular pastime among both children and adults, particularly in pub or hotel contexts (Bone et al. 2017). Very few dominoes have been found on Christchurch archaeological sites, but at least one was found on the site of a 19th century hotel. Image: C. Dickson.

Leaving aside the drinking culture and related habits for a while, hotels hosted several sporting and social meetings and events, and many proprietors became notable figures in the community thanks to the visibility and respectability of their establishments. John George Ruddenklau was one of those gentlemen. He opened the City Hotel on the corner of Colombo, Cashel and High Streets (what used to be known as the Triangle Centre) in 1864. Although no archaeology was found on the site of the City Hotel, tiny pieces of a saucer and a teacup were found in other central Christchurch sites with the initials J.G.R. and the name ‘City Hotel’ transfer printed into the design. An excellent example of personal and commercial branding in the Victorian era. These marked ceramics suggest that Rudenklau was prosperous enough to afford its own customised china. Exactly how that china ended up on other sites in the city is unknown. He may have sold or given it away after his retirement in 1869, or it may have been ‘taken’ by guests of the hotel at any point during its operation.

Left: Shamrock patterned saucer and teacup with the City Hotel and the initials J.G.R printed on it. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: John George Ruddenklau, c. 1892. Image: Christchurch City Libraries, CCL PhotoCD 15, IMG0097.

Hotels were also recreational places to enjoy a meal and some entertainment, as well as providing a home away from home for travellers. A wide variety of table and serving wares is considered a characteristic of non-domestic assemblages like hotels, boarding houses and other commercial establishments associated with the provision of food and drink (Lawrence et al. 2009: 75-77). The presence of matching sets may indicate that the hotel chose to serve meals on matching plates and dishes, likely representing what must have been a first-class dinner experience for the guests. In particular, the Occidental Hotel became one of the most well-known hotels in Christchurch, with a room maintained solely for the use of visiting members of the Parliament – a clear indicator of the hotel status.

This set of Belmont patterned vessels made by the Staffordshire potter Pinder, Bourne and Co. (1862-1882) were found on the Occidental Hotel site. The range of tableware recorded, showed that dining was a formal activity at this site, with specialised forms such as a ladle, a cover dish, tureens and a number of plates and other serving wares.

Personal items are scarcely identified on hotel assemblages. These goods hold great value for archaeologists as they tell us about private lives within public spaces (i.e. hotels) in the Victorian era and provide evidence of daily domestic life within this unique space. They may have belonged to the proprietors, visitors or haven been provided to guests by the hotel itself. Their rarity is also what makes them captivating for us.

Perfume bottles. Right: This one may have held a fragrance, based on its size and octagonal shape, similar to the J. M. Farina Cologne bottles found on other Christchurch archaeological sites. Left: Piesse and Lubin bottle. They were perfume manufacturers established in 1855 in London. Their fragrance was first advertised for sale in New Zealand newspapers as early as 1857 (Wellington Independent 20/05/1857: 3). In the 19th century, perfume became intimately entangled with gender. Despite the growing popularity of perfumes in the written record towards the end of the 19th century, especially for women, we don’t find that many perfume bottles on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Clockwise from top: John Gosnell’s Cherry Toothpaste first produced in the 1850s, hair comb made from vulcanite or vulcanised rubber (brushing and combing the hair was a frequent recommendation in the 19th century newspapers and magazines to encourage a healthy hair), bone toothbrush made in Liverpool by an unknown manufacturer. Image: J. Garland.

To conclude our particular approach to the daily life at Christchurch hotels though the artefacts and other sources, I’ll return to the beginning: hotels were an important part of the social development of both the public and private areas in the 19th and the early 20th centuries. Who knew hotels were such versatile places!

Just witty! (Observer 7/09/1912: 17).

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Ayto, E. G., 1994. Clay Tobacco Pipes. Shire Publications

Bone, K., Dickson, C. and Whybrew, C., 2017. 6 Winchester Street, Lyttelton: Report on Archaeological Monitoring. Unpublished report for Holloway Builders Ltd.

Brassey, R., 1991. Clay Tobacco Pipes from the Site of the Victoria Hotel, Auckland, New Zealand. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 9: 27-30.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Grey River Agust. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Lawrence, S., Brooks, A. and Lennon, J., 2009. Ceramics and Status in Regional Australia. Australasian Historical Archaeology, Vol. 27: 67-78.

Macready, S. and Goodwyn, J., 1990. Slums and Self-Improvement. The History and Archaeology of the Mechanics Institute, Auckland, and it’s Chancery Street Neighbourhood, Vol 2: The Artefacts and Faunal Material. Science and Research Report 92, Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Observer. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Press. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Star. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].

Stephenson, T., 2016. The Curious Bartender’s Gin Palace. Ryland Peters and Small, London.

Wellington Independent. [online] Available at www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz [Accessed May 2018].