In which monkeys have mirrors, battles are fought and hair is oiled.

In writing an introduction to this post, I found myself straying unexpectedly into alliteration. This happens sometimes. I decided to run with it.

So, as an aside from our accustomed analysis of antiquity, we’ve assembled an array of artefacts for the the amusement and appreciation of archaeologist and amateur alike. Enjoy!


A lovely little milk jug recovered from one of our larger sites on Lichfield Street. We don’t often find jugs like these in such complete condition: we’re far more likely to find just the spout or part of the handle. Image: J. Garland.


A Christchurch trade token, issued by Hobday and Jobberns, a drapery firm based at Waterloo House on Cashel Street. Tokens like these were used in place of government issued money for much of the late 19th century due to the shortage of actual currency in New Zealand during this period (Thomas & Dale 1950: 42-46). Image: J. Garland.


A blue and white transfer printed saucer featuring three figures meeting under an arch. Unfortunately, no maker’s mark was evident on this piece, meaning we were unable to trace it to its original manufacturer. Image: J. Garland.


A musket ball! This was a pretty unexpected find: musket balls are not common finds, particularly in the context of 19th century Christchurch. It probably wasn’t used for an actual musket, but may have been intended for a smaller calibre gun. Image: J. Garland.


This ‘Pratt ware’ jar  is decorated with a scene from the Crimean war, featuring Sir Harry Jones, a well known British military figure. Sir Harry, who rose to the status of general, commanded the British forces and then the Royal Engineers during the Crimean war, having previously fought in several other campaigns, including one with the Duke of Wellington. Image: J. Garland.


A beautiful gilt decorated and transfer printed candle holder, or ‘chamber stick’, as they were known during the 19th century. The cone feature to the top left of the vessel was there to hold the candle-snuffer, keeping it within easy reach. Image: G. Jackson.


This wee bottle originally contained Rowland’s Macassar Oil, a hair restorative and beautifier. It was first introduced during the late 18th century by Alexander Rowland, a barber (a very expensive barber, apparently) based in St James, London. It was then marketed by his son, Alexander Rowland Junior, who did so to great success (Rowland 2013). Macassar oil was in use throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century and is the origin of the term ‘antimacassar’, referring to the piece of fabric thrown over the top or back of arm chairs. Apparently, antimacassars were developed in response to the oily residue people wearing the oil would leave on furniture. Who knew! Image: J. Garland.


A teacup fragment, on which the image of a monkey examining itself in the mirror is displayed. Because, why not? Image: K. Bone.


A wooden ruler found under the floorboards of a 19th century house in Christchurch, with “McCallums The Timber People” printed on the front. McCallum & Co were an Invercargill based timber company, who were established prior to 1864. By the early 20th century, the company was run by a partnership between William Asher and Archibald McCallum, with branch offices in Dunedin, Gore, Oamaru, Kelso and Winton (Cyclopedia of New Zealand 1905). They appear to have been purchased by Fletcher’s at some point during the 20th century. Image: J. Garland.


A beautiful Alma patterned plate, found on a site on Armagh Street. There isn’t really much to say about this particular plate. I just think it’s pretty. Image: J. Garland.


It can be pretty easy to forget that there was another British monarch between the end of George IV’s reign and the beginning of Queen Victoria’s time on the throne. There’s the Georgian period, then there’s the Victorian period and those seven years between them when William IV was the King of England get sort of forgotten about. This coin, a half-crown, was minted in 1835, during William’s reign, and it is his slightly smiling profile that adorns one side, jaunty hair and all. Image: J. Garland.


The royal bust on this artefact isn’t quite as affable seeming as William IV’s. In fact, if I may say so, the smudges of dirt don’t do anything for the shape of her nose (a bit beak like, isn’t it?). This pipe celebrates Queen Victoria’s Royal Jubilee, which she had two of – one in 1887 (50 years) and one in 1897 (60 years). It’s unclear exactly which one this pipe is referring to. Image: J. Garland.


And lastly, here is a teacup shaped like a barrel. Image: J. Garland.

Jessie Garland


Cyclopedia Company Limited, 1905. Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Otago and Southland Provincial Districts]. Cyclopedia Company Ltd., Christchurch. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2015]

Rowland, R., 2013. Fifteen Generations of the Rowland Family. [online] Available at [Accessed May 2015]

Thomas, E. R. & Dale, L. J., 1950. They Made Their Own Money: the Story of Early Canterbury Traders & Their Tokens. Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand, Canterbury.

Just what the doctor ordered!

When it comes to the weird and wonderful in 19th century life, it’s hard to go past the field of medicine: specifically, pharmaceutical and ‘self-care’ remedies. Health-related products can be some of the wackiest and most interesting things we find in the archaeological record, especially when they’re put into the context of contemporary advertising and marketing strategies. They also offer us the opportunity to understand the health concerns of people in the past: not just what they actually suffered from and how they treated it, but what they thought they suffered from and what they considered to be healthy.

Mostly, though, they’re fascinating. And often hilarious.

With that in mind, the following are some of our favourites. Enjoy!


Lamplough’s Effervescing Pyretic Saline. A ‘cure-all’ patent medicine, Lamplough’s Saline was made by Henry Lamplough, based in Holborn, London, in the latter half of the 19th century. It was advertised as a remedy for SO many ailments, from cholera and smallpox to ‘eruptive skin’, sea sickness and headaches. Several of the advertisements emphasise its efficacy in preventing tropical and colonial diseases, which suggests that it was aimed more at the export market than the local one. Image (clockwise, from top left): G. Jackson, Wikimedia, Otago Witness 19/10//1888: 40, Wanganui Herald 19/09/1887:2.


St Jacobs Oil, the “Great German Remedy”, was advertised primarily as a pain reliever. One article describes it as a “standard pain remedy for bruises, sprains or sores in man or beast” (Otago Witness 26/04/1893: 3) and the “conquers pain” tagline was common in advertisements for the oil. According to the British Medical Journal in 1894, St Jacobs Oil was 84% turpentine with traces of camphor 10% ether, 5% alcohol, 2% carbolic acid, 0.4% capsicum and 0.01% aconite. While aconite (and capsicum, to a degree) is known to have pain-relieving properties, particularly for rheumatism and as an anti-inflammatory, turpentine and carbolic acid are more commonly used as antiseptics or disinfectants. Carbolic acid, in particular, is now considered to be fairly toxic. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 28/04/1883: 3.


Eucalyptus oil was a popular remedy during the 19th century as, to a degree, it still is now. Although this particular bottle is embossed with the name of R. G. Bosisto, no information could be found about this person. It’s possible that the bottle was associated with Joseph Bosisto, a well-known eucalyptus oil manufacturer who began harvesting and selling the oil in 1853, either as a derivative of his product or an imitation. Advertisements for the oil provide an interesting example of how medical advertising can reflect the health concerns of the past as much as the properties of the actual medicine.. In the 1880s, many of the advertisements emphasise the usefulness of eucalyptus oil as a remedy for cholera, while in the early 20th century, at the height of the influenza epidemic, the advertisements were all about its use in alleviating colds and influenza. Image: J. Garland, Southland Times 8/08/1883:2Dominion 18/09/1919:2.


Bishop’s Granular Citrate of Lithia and Citrate of Magnesia, the creations of Alfred Bishop, a London chemist established in 1857. The magnesia was advertised for stomach ailments, as a product “surpassing the ordinary seidletz powder”, while the lithia seems to have primarily been advertised as a remedy for gout. One recipe for the citrate of magnesia suggests that it contained a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid (which is awfully close to baking powder, when you think about it…). Image: J. Garland, Otago Daily Times 12/01/1900: 8, Otago Witness 01/02/1868: 10.


Holloway’s Ointment and Pills, advertised as ‘cure anything’ products, listed everything from asthma and cancer to ‘female complaints’ within the scope of their curative abilities. They were the brainchild of Thomas Holloway, who began selling his ointment and pills in the 1830s in England. He was something of an advertising pioneer, an approach that paid off for him: by the mid-19th century Holloway’s products had become hugely popular and he had amassed a significant fortune. Although it seems to be unclear exactly what was in the ointment, the pills were later discovered to contain non-medicinal, but harmless ingredients like ginger, soap and castor oil. Image: J. Garland, Poverty Bay Herald 21/04/1884: 4Tuapeka Times 22/12/1870: 10Clutha Leader 25/06/1880: 7.


Charles Hockin, chemist, was based in London in the early to mid-19th century. He retired in 1859, although the company continued under the name of Hockin, Wilson/Welson & Co. The firm produced a variety of products, including digestive drops, ginger beer powder, essence of Rennett, “inexhaustible salts” and liver pills. Chief among them though, was a product called Seidlitz Powder, a “gentle medicine” that was somehow also a “purgative salt”, marketed as long lasting and a remedy for day to day ailments (including the ever present bilious attacks!). Image: J. Garland, Thames Adviser 13/04/1878: 4Lyttelton Times 14/01/1857: 12.


This bottle, embossed with “PRESTON SALTS” appears to have contained Mounsey’s Preston Smelling Salts, the type of salts used to revive fainting ladies (or men, one supposes). Recipes published in 1854 and 1892 indicate that the salts were largely ammonia based, containing a solution of ammonia, powdered chloride of ammonia and powdered carbonate of ammonia in addition to powdered carbonate of potassium, oil of bergamot, oil of clove and sometimes oil of lavender. Several types of smelling salts existed during the 19th century, but Preston Salts seems to have been among the higher quality ones available. It was advertised in New Zealand from the 1850s onwards. Image: J. Garland, Lyttelton Times 12/02/1853: 3.


Ford’s Pectoral Balsam of Horehound was first patented by Robert Ford in 1816. The original mixture contained horehound (a plant with medicinal qualities), liquorice root, water, spirit of wine, gum camphore, Turkish opium, “benjamin” (actually benzoin), squill (another medicinal plant), oil of aniseed and clarified honey. The recipe was later modified by his successor, Thomas Ford, in 1830, although the modifications seem to have been minimal. It was advertised as a remedy for respiratory ailments, including influenza, asthma and coughs. Image: C. Dickson, Wellington Independent 17/10/1865: 8.


The “unequalled and invincible” Woods Great Peppermint Cure claimed to cure coughs and colds and was the creation of chemist W. E. Woods, a New Zealand chemist. Woods first set up shop in Hastings, Hawkes Bay, in 1881 before moving to Wellington and eventually to Sydney, where he died in 1927. W. E. Woods & Co., New Zealand, however, remained active his death. Image: C. Dickson, Hawkes Bay Herald 13/06/1895: 2, 13/06/1895: 4.


The one and only Califig, “nature’s own laxative”. Advertised primarily for bowel complaints, the California Syrup of Figs also claimed to alleviate the problems of heartburn, bad breath and loss of appetite. It was particularly targeted at mothers, as a remedy for unhappy children, with one advertisement bearing the tagline “once ‘touchy’ and tearful, now full of fun, his system cleansed with Califig.” Image: J. Garland, Bottlepickers,  New Zealand Herald 8/02/1942: 3.

Jessie Garland

On the right track: tramways archaeology in Christchurch

How did people get around Christchurch in the 19th century? People certainly walked, or rode, perhaps on a horse, or in a wheeled vehicle pulled by a horse, such as a dray, gig, hackney, or hansom. And let’s not forget that by the later 19th century many people were certainly racing around on bicycles . From early 1880 however, the people of Christchurch were given the option of travelling by tram. During the course of horizontal infrastructure rebuild we have come across lots of old tram lines, and in the process have become tramways archaeologists.

Trains versus trams

What’s the difference between a train and a tram? Both are flange wheeled vehicles that operate atop a permanent way  of iron rail: mostly it’s a question of scale. Trains are a heavy rail transportation system and trams are a light rail transportation system. Trains run on specially built lines that are always separate from other traffic, whereas trams run along lines (called tramways) that are built into public roads, a space they have to share with other traffic.

All the rage across the world in the 19th century, once trams finally arrived in Christchurch they proved to be a big hit. Before the Christchurch Tramway Board was formed in 1903 to municipalise, modernise, and electrify the network (the first electric trams ran in 1905), the tramways of 19th century Christchurch were owned and operated by private companies. The Canterbury Tramway Company was the first of these: formed in 1878, it opened its first passenger service in March 1880, and by the end of 1888 had 17 miles (more than 27 kilometres) of tramway in operation (Alexander 1985: 8).

Off the rails: rail types

Three different types of iron rail were used in the 19th century to carry Christchurch trams. Thin flat grooved rails were used in the early years – these were attached to longitudinal timber beams fastened to timber sleepers. This first type of rail (not surprisingly) wasn’t very robust – it cracked along the inside of the groove, and was soon replaced with other rail types (Anderson 1985: 29). Loubat’s grooved tramrail proved to be the best choice: with the flanges of the tram wheels running safely within the groove or ‘flangeway’ of the upper surface of the rail, Loubat’s rail could be easily set flush into the road surface where they didn’t pose such a hazard to other road users (except possibly unfortunate cyclists with narrow tires).


The three different types of rail that carried Christchurch trams in the 19th century. From left to right: the early flat grooved rail used by the Canterbury Tramway company, the flat bottomed Vignoles rail, and the Loubat grooved tram rail. Image: Anderson 1985: 29.

Mostly we have found Loubat’s grooved tramway rail in situ below Christchurch’s roads, though all the examples we have found so far have been associated with 20th century electric trams.

With the transition to electric trams all the tramlines of the private companies had to be replaced. Although the new electrics were of the standard gauge like their steam and horse powered predecessors, most of the tramlines were in poor condition, and the rail was too light to handle the much heavier electric tramcars, so had to be dug up and replaced. The standard method of tramway formation in the electric era involved bedding the sleepers on compacted shingle, and fixing the rails with big spike nails (Alexander 1986: 52). A good example of this was uncovered in 2012 on North Avon Road – you can read all about it here. From the 1920s this method was improved, with concrete being used instead of compacted shingle. Last week I spotted a fine example of this in the side of a sewer trench crossing Colombo Street.


An improved concrete tramway foundation of the 1920s period, as exposed in the side of a sewer trench crossing Colombo Street. It had some fine steel mesh reinforcing at a lower level. Image: H. Williams.

A later method involved completely embedding the rail in reinforced concrete (Alexander 1993: 78-79). We have come across lots of this type of tramway in the central city, just below the road surface. It’s easy to see why these tramways were simply covered over after the last of the trams stopped running in 1954, as removing them is lots of hard work!


A 20th century reinforced concrete tramway foundation, with the embedded Loubat grooved rail still in situ. Colombo Street, Sydenham. Image: H. Williams.

The tramway on Tuam Street

We have found the remnants of only one 19th century tramway. This was on Tuam Street, and formed part of the Canterbury Tramway Company’s Addington line, which opened to the public on 5 January 1882 (Star 5/1/1882: 2). Unlike most of the other 19th century tram routes, when the tramway network was electrified the Addington route was slightly altered, and Tuam Street bypassed. Because of this, remains of this 19th century tramline survived, unlike the lines of other routes that were dug up and relaid.

At three different locations on Tuam Street we found timber tramway sleepers, but sadly no rail. Presumably the well-worn rail was removed and scrapped, but it may have found another use. On Main Road near McCormacks Bay last year we looked at a trio of Vignoles rails exposed during road widening works. These had been embedded vertically in the ground, to support part of the seawall. We guess that these old rails had once been part of the adjacent roadway, where they carried the Sumner tram.


An alignment of old Vignoles type tram rails exposed on Main Road, McCormacks Bay during road widening works in February 2015. Image: H. Williams.


Close up of one of the well-worn and salt-spray corroded Vignoles type tram rails used to support the sea wall. The height of the rail is 116 mm, and you can see that the upper surface is well worn from contact with the tram wheel. Image: H. Williams.

Most of the sleepers of the Addington line had been removed; in over 300 metres of trenching on Tuam Street we found just eight sleepers, probably left there because their condition was too poor to justify their removal for reuse. Knowing that vast numbers of hardwood sleepers were being imported from Australia for our railway construction at the time (Press 8/9/1891:5), I was interested to learn that the timber was of a native species – rimu.


The remnants of two 19th century tramway sleepers of the Addington Line exposed on Tuam Street. They had been laid directly atop the sandy clay subsoil, rather than on top of any supporting ballast. Image: H. Williams.


An alignment of sleepers uncovered at the Tuam and Colombo Street intersection, laid not at right angles to the road, but on an angle, to carry the tram around the corner. Image: H. Williams.

There are so many social and cultural related tramway things that sadly we haven’t been able to touch upon in this week’s blog – such as the rules for riding a Christchurch tram in the 19th century (no playing musical instruments without the permission of the [tram!] conductor), or the saga of the council’s tramway hearse that never carried a single corpse and ended up a houseboat (Alexander 1983: 11).

Because of the context in which we have found these tramway features (located on public rather than private land) it’s been a different sort of archaeology than what we have been used to – representing one not of past peoples ‘in their place’, so to speak (be it in their former home, workplace, or backyard, the kind of contexts where we end up doing most of our archaeology), but of past peoples ‘between places'; neither here nor there but ‘on the way somewhere’ – a most ephemeral archaeology of people in transit, people in motion.


Although she rides the rails at Ferrymead, 134 ‘Kitty’, one of the eight Kitson steam tram motors imported by the Canterbury Tramway Company made a special trip back into town some years ago to blaze up a few laps on the city circuit. At left, Kitty leaves Cathedral Junction, October 2003, and at right, in the distance, the Invercargill Tramways No. 15 Birney electric tram, April 2015. Both trams were restored by the Tramway Historical Society. Image: D. Hinman (left) and H. Williams (right).

Thanks to Dave Hinman from the Tramway Historical Society for providing the photo of Kitty, and to Dr Rod Wallace for timber identification.

Hamish Williams


Alexander, M., 1985. Rails in the Roads: the steam and horse tram era in Christchurch. Christchurch NZ: Christchurch Transport Board and Tramway Historical Society.

Alexander, M., 1986. The Wire Web: the Christchurch Tramway Board & its early electric tramways, 1903-1920. Christchurch, N.Z: Christchurch Transport Board and Tramway Historical Society.

Alexander, M., 1993. Tram to the Terminus: the Christchurch Tramway Board and its electric tramways 1921-54. Christchurch N.Z: A&M and Tramway Historical Society.

Press. [online] Available at

Star. [online] Available at


A breath of not-so-fresh air: archaeology and asbestos in Christchurch

When I first started studying to become an archaeologist, the dangers and difficulties of working with asbestos wasn’t really something that had ever crossed my mind. I knew what it was, in a vague sort of way, and that it was bad for you. That’s about it. After the earthquakes in Christchurch, however, as a result of our work on sites with asbestos contamination (especially the recording and monitoring of building demolition), we’ve all come to learn a lot more about it and how it can affect the process of an archaeological investigation or recording.

Recently, we were called to investigate the archaeology of a Christchurch site with asbestos ground contamination. The site was located in the central city, an area active from the earliest phases of European settlement in Christchurch, and was situated near several other sites where we’d discovered archaeological material in the past. The crew were bulking out the site in order to prepare for the foundations of a new building.  This meant (a) the large scale disturbance of asbestos and other soil contaminants; and (b) a high probability that archaeological features would be discovered.

Excavating a pit feature on site in full protective gear. Image: K. Bone.

Excavating archaeological features on an asbestos contaminated site in full protective gear. Image: K. Bone.

All of which culminated in the situation we found ourselves in a few weeks ago, kitted out head to toe in protective suits, gloves, gumboots and respirators, digging in the dirt under the relentless sun, trying to ignore the sweat condensing inside our masks and occasionally submerging our noses if we bent our heads the wrong way.

Such a glamourous job, this.

The consequences of a particularly muddy day on site. Image: K. Bone.

The consequences of a particularly muddy day on site. Image: K. Bone.

The site contained several archaeological features, from a large fill deposit and a circular brick-lined well to a deep pit filled with artefacts and timbers laid down at the base. Unfortunately for us, in this case, we found a LOT of artefact material in these features, presenting us with something of a problem. We lack the facilities here at Underground Overground to safely decontaminate material in our own lab (ideally, we would need a method of air control, as well as the ability to dispose of the material safely). The most obvious solution was to analyse the material on-site, a task that presented its own set of problems.

Some of the archaeological features excavated on site. Clockwise from top left: a circular brick well; archaeologists providing shade for the photographing of a pit feature with timbers at the base; large rectangular rubbish pit, half sectioned. Images: K. Bennett, J. Garland.

Some of the archaeological features excavated on site. Clockwise from top left: a circular brick well; archaeologists providing shade for the photographing of a pit feature with timbers at the base; large rectangular rubbish pit, half sectioned. Images: K. Bennett, J. Garland.

Ordinarily, our artefact analysis is carried out by one person who, after the material has been washed (when appropriate), sorts and identifies the individual artefacts to material, function, object form, manufacturing method and age, etc. That information is entered into a digital spreadsheet and most of the artefact assemblage is then photographed, using an SLR camera and light box set-up. It’s all very civilised.

Obviously, we couldn’t replicate this on site. Especially considering that everything we took onto the site – tools, cameras, containers, recording equipment – needed to be either washed down with high pressure hoses or thoroughly cleaned with wet wipes and/or water before we could take it away again. Everything. We were also under time pressure, to get all the archaeological investigation and artefact analysis completed while there was still room on the site for us to work.

We ended up with a team of two, an iPad, a camera and almost five thousand fragments of artefact material. Each feature assemblage was sorted, analysed and photographed, with one person doing the identification and photography and the other transcribing the information into a spreadsheet on the iPad. Anything that we thought was of archaeological significance and could be safely cleaned on site (washed and rinsed in clean water to remove every speck of dirt) was removed from the site and everything else disposed of then and there. This meant we were able to recover a large proportion of the ceramics, a fantastic collection of clay pipes and a small quantity of bottles. Leather shoes, textiles, metal artefacts, most of the bottles (which couldn’t be easily cleaned on site) and any things we felt it wasn’t safe to remove were left behind, after being carefully analysed.

Our artefact analysis station on site. Image: J. Garland.

Our artefact analysis station on site. Image: J. Garland.

We learned a few things about the process (and ourselves) along the way.

  • It’s really difficult to use a touch screen while wearing gloves, especially if the gloves are even the tiniest bit loose.
  • Respirators muffle the voice quite a bit, which may result in some interesting misunderstandings between the dictator and transcriber, not helped by loud machinery nearby. It’s really important to have two people familiar with the same artefact terminology to mitigate this as much as possible. We still ended up with some fairly hilarious mis-transcriptions.
  • Communication throughout the whole excavation was made more difficult by the respirators, actually, not just between the archaeologists on site but also between us and the machine operator and other crew working on the site.
  • Sunny days are the worst. Not only are they hellish to experience in suits and masks, the shadows cast by the light made artefact (and site) photography more difficult than it needed to be.
  • Tyvek protective suits probably weren’t made with archaeology in mind: however tough they are, they were still, on occasion, defeated by the sharp edges of artefacts as we were digging.
  • On a note specific to this one particular site: people have terrible taste in music and may, sadistically, play the same song ten times in a row if they feel like it. We happened to be working right next to the Dance-O-Mat (a usually awesome Christchurch landmark created by Gap Filler), which was not as conducive to our continued sanity as you might have thought.
  • Sneezing while wearing a respirator is a very bad idea. Seriously. Think about it.

We also found a lot of really cool things. From clay pipes shaped like soldiers, decorated with tragedy/comedy masks or functioning as temperance propaganda to elaborate ceramic teapots, beautifully patterned ceramics, unusual glass bottles and an 1835 half-crown, this was a site that contained a wide variety of material culture. We haven’t completed our research into the history of the site as yet, but many of the artefacts were manufactured between the 1840s and early 1870s, suggesting that they may have belonged to people living here in the earliest decades of the city’s European settlement.

Some of the clay pipes found on site, along with an 1835 half-crown, with the stamp of William IV, King of England. Note the super awesome tragedy/comedy pipe with the face that changed expression when looked at upside down. Image: J. Garland.

Some of the clay pipes found on site, along with an 1835 half-crown, with the stamp of William IV, King of England. Note the super awesome tragedy/comedy pipe with the face that changed expression when looked at upside down. Image: J. Garland.

The ceramics, particularly from the pit with timbers at the base, included several blue and white “romantic” landscape patterns and Asiatic motifs popular in the mid-late 19th century. Other artefacts, especially the bottles, were discovered to be products and brands that had been made since the early 19th century. We identified torpedo bottles from Schweppes, Pitt and Webb, all of whom were aerated water manufacturers established in the first few decades of the 1800s. Other artefacts included products made by ink manufacturers, druggists and perfumers all operating from a similar period of time onwards. Exactly when they were deposited remains unclear for the moment, but we’ll figure it out.

Selection of ceramic vessels and a Booth's gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal. Clockwise, left to right:

Selection of ceramic vessels and a Booth’s gin bottle with a prunt or blob seal. Clockwise, left to right: Asiatic patterned plate; Italian Buildings patterned plate; Delhi patterned saucer; Alma patterned plate; Dendritic mocha decorated jug; glass bottle with prunt, reading BOOTH & CO No 1 SUPERIOR GIN 55 COWCROSS; Statue patterned saucers. Image: J. Garland.

We do know that, later on in the site’s history, several health professionals lived on the site, including a doctor and a dentist. Dr William Deamer constructed a two-storey brick surgery on the site in 1865 (Canterbury Heritage), which stood until the early 20th century and some of the medicine related artefacts we found may have originally been used in his establishment. The well that we found, in particular, contained a small assemblage of artefacts that were almost exclusively pharmaceutical bottles, as well as an incised measuring jug that may have been used in the preparation of medicines.

Medical and pharmaceutical artefacts found in the well. Image: J. Garland.

Medical and pharmaceutical artefacts found in the well. Image: J. Garland.

All things considered, it’s a pretty fascinating site and assemblage. I will admit, it was a little bit sad to see so much of the physical material disposed of on site, but the most important thing is that we’ve preserved the information that material had to offer. This is what archaeology is about, after all, the insight and knowledge into the lives and behaviour of people that we gain from the material traces of those who came before us.

If it means suffering through sweaty protective suits and masks to do this, then we will, and gladly.

Jessie Garland


Canterbury Heritage, 2008. 1879 Christchurch Panorama. [online] Available at 

Māori occupation at Raekura

People have lived in the Christchurch area for at least 700 years, and one of the earliest large settlements was at Redcliffs – Raekura – where a wide variety of naturally occurring foods could be obtained.  There were shellfish on the beach and on the mudflats of the Avon-Heathcote estuary, fish could be caught in the rivers and the sea, and there were birds along the coast and in the nearby forest that covered the peninsula at that time.  Sea and rivers provided canoe routeways, and stone materials could be obtained from the rocky cliffs for tool manufacture.

One of the casualties of the Canterbury earthquakes was a sewer main that ran beneath Main Road, Redcliffs, from Barnett Park to McCormacks Bay, and putting in its replacement provided a unique opportunity to learn more about the early Māori settlement that had existed across parts of Redcliffs Flat.  Evidence of this settlement had been investigated by Julius von Haast, the first director of the Canterbury Museum, way back in the 1870s, and I had carried out some work there myself in the 1960s, but archaeological methods are improving all the time – and besides, there is always the chance of finding something new and exciting!

The sewer pipe installation was monitored by archaeologists who investigated any archaeological evidence that was exposed.  At times the digging up of the road was halted while we hand-excavated occupational deposits containing shells, bones and artefacts in a layer of charcoal-blackened sand.

 Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan  stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.

Jeanette McIsaac shows digger driver Duncan
stratigraphy in the side of the sewer excavation. Image: M. Trotter.


So what did we find?

Most important was the evidence of early Māori occupation in the vicinity of the Redcliffs School, which was radiocarbon dated to the middle of the 14th century – that is around AD1350 or a little over 650 years ago.  The inhabitants had left a range of materials from which we were able to get some idea of what they ate and what they were doing here.

 Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.

Michael Trotter excavating broken moa bones. Image: J. McIsaac.

Only one small earthen hāngī type oven was uncovered, but the quantity of burnt stones and charcoal was evidence that others occurred close by, outside the narrow confines of the pipeline excavation.  Food remains showed that the main food eaten was moa, followed closely by shellfish, principally cockle and tuatua.  Other birds included spotted shags, paradise shelducks, penguins, weka, oyster catchers, and swans.  Fur seals and Polynesian dogs were also consumed.  There were surprisingly few fish bones.

 A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.

A selection of bird bones from the site. Image: M. Trotter.

 Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.

Moa toe bone – most of the moa bones found had been broken into small pieces. Image: M. Trotter.

One activity in this part of the site was the manufacture of stone adze-heads (toki) from basalt obtained locally.  The manufacturing process was to knock flakes off a piece of basalt with a stone hammer until it was approximately the right size and shape for the intended object, after which it would be ground on sandstone to produce a cutting edge.  The number of waste flakes found indicated that this was a large-scale manufactory, probably operated by one or more skilled craftsmen, producing tools for those living here or for trade with groups elsewhere.   Other stones materials from different parts of the country, including the North Island, showed a sound knowledge of New Zealand’s geological resources.

 Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.

Waste flakes of basalt from tool manufacture. Image: M. Trotter.

The pièce de résistance as far as I was concerned was a small broken ball of baked clay – only few of these have been found from sites of similar age in the South Island.

 Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball,            are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.

Objects of baked clay, such as this broken ball, are very rare. Image: M. Trotter.

Less than 600 metres away to the southeast was the other settlement around the end of Moncks Spur.  This site was occupied about 150 years later than the one at Redcliffs School.  There was no evidence of moa-hunting here, the main food being shellfish (suggesting that moas had become locally extinct in the meantime) nor was there any evidence of tool manufacture.

Michael Trotter