Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve looked at some of the methods we use to date archaeological objects found in Christchurch. This week, we’re going to look at how artefacts, documentary evidence and archaeological context can be used to date a site. To do this, we’re going to use the example of a site on Gloucester Street that came to be associated with the first synagogue in Christchurch.
In the case of this site, we initially focused our efforts on old maps and deeds, followed by more extensive research in local newspapers of the time. In Charles Edward Fooks’ 1862 map of Christchurch, we found that there was at least one building on the site at this time (originally known as Town Section 398). That same building is also visible in Frederick Strouts’ 1877 map of the area. From the old deeds index, we were then able to find that Town Section 398 (and the adjacent 397) was bought by Ann Elizabeth Leslie, spinster (not an occupation you’d find listed today!), in 1851 and remained in her ownership until 1885, when the section (and building) was sold to someone by the name of Zachariah.
Unfortunately – and this is how documentary research can be as frustrating as artefact dating – we couldn’t find much information about Ann Leslie in the newspapers or any other resources. However, thanks to Papers Past, we were able to find out that Zachariah was a rabbi by the name of Isaac Zachariah, who moved with his family from their Hereford Street home to the Gloucester Street site in 1885, staying there until his death in 1906 (Clements n.d., Press 4/11/1881:3). During this time, he was the rabbi for the nearby synagogue, constructed in 1881 (replacing the initial wooden synagogue built in the 1860s). We know from newspaper accounts and obituaries that Zachariah arrived in New Zealand from his home in Palestine in the 1860s and worked as a rabbi during the gold rush on the West Coast before moving to Christchurch in the 1870s (West Coast Times 4/4/1868: 2). He had three sons with his wife, Eve, who would have been 3, 14 and 18 years old when the family moved to Gloucester Street (Star 13/12/1882: 2).
The excavation of the site revealed a number of rubbish pits, well outside the footprint of the 1862 and 1877 buildings. If the pits had been in the same part of the section as the buildings, we could have dated them to before the construction of those structures or after their demolition. Since they weren’t, we turned to the artefacts to help narrow down the dates.
Going by their manufacturing marks, the objects from the four pits were all made during the same period, between the early 1850s and mid 1880s. The earliest possible date of manufacture is from a Copeland/Late Spode chamberpot, with a manufacturing range of 1847-1867, while the latest is from a Bridgwood & Co bowl made after 1885 (Godden 1991: 102). Those artefacts that didn’t have specific maker’s marks, especially the bottles, all had manufacturing evidence that could easily fit within the 1850s-1880s date range (which is quite broad, really).
Without taking into consideration the issues of time lag or bottle reuse, and knowing that these assemblages hadn’t been disturbed since they were first deposited (this is something we can tell from the state of the ground around and within the deposit), these dates give us a terminus post quem or TPQ of 1885. TPQ (which means ‘limit after which’) refers to the earliest date at which an archaeological deposit could have been put in the ground. It’s usually taken from the date of the youngest artefact in an assemblage – in this case, the 1885+ Bridgwood bowl – since, if that assemblage was all thrown out at the same time, it can’t have been discarded before the bowl was made. We know that it was probably thrown out at the same time or over a very short period of time because of the lack of stratigraphy, or changes in the soil layers, in the deposit itself.
TPQ goes hand in hand with another acronym, TAQ, or terminus ante quem (limit before which), the latest point in time at which an assemblage could have been chucked out. At the Gloucester Street site, we know that a large brick building was built there, directly above the archaeology we found, in 1928. Obviously, this means that those deposits have to have been there before that building was constructed, making 1928 our TAQ. Consequently, the material has to have been buried between 1885 and 1928.
If we then take into account the questions of bottle reuse, ceramic uselife and time lag that we’ve discussed in the last two blog posts, there’s a good chance that our actual date of discard is a bit later than 1885. Our dates of use are almost definitely later than the 1847-1867, 1851-1862 and 1862-1882 dates of manufacture of the ceramic artefacts. The problem, though, is figuring out how much later. If we go with the American estimate of a 15-25 year time lag for ceramic artefacts (Adams 2003), we’re looking at a discard date of 1900-1910 for the Bridgwood bowl and a period of use for most of the objects spanning the 1880s and 1890s.
These dates fit in pretty clearly with the dates for the Zachariah family’s occupation of the site. Even if the 15-25 year time lag estimate isn’t quite right for a New Zealand site and we’re looking at a shorter period of time between manufacture and discard, these artefacts still can’t have been thrown out before the mid-late 1880s, after Isaac Zachariah and his family moved in. To add to this, we found a bunch of children’s artefacts in the assemblages – including a ‘pudding doll’ and multiple children’s shoes – that suggest the artefacts belonged to a family, and we know that Zachariah had children from the ages of 3 to 18 when he moved in.
It seems clear, then, that the artefacts we found at 72 Gloucester Street are related to Isaac Zachariah and his family. Using their archaeological context and historical records, we’re able to take these objects and put a face and a name to the people who used them through the likely dates of their manufacture, use and discard. By themselves, those dates don’t necessarily tell us much about Isaac Zachariah and his family, but they do let us build a bridge between the historical record of their lives and the material remains of their time in this location. Without that bridge, this assemblage would be just another discarded collection of objects, rather than a window into the experiences of people in the past.
Adams, W. H., 2003. Dating Historical Artefacts: The Importance of Understanding Time Lag in the Acquisition, Curation, Use, and Disposal of Artefacts. Historical Archaeology 37(2): 38-64.
Clements, M., n.d. [Online] Available at: http://www.nzjewisharchives.org/history.htm
Donaldson, B., Hume, G. and Costello, S., 1990. Antique Bottle and Containers of Christchurch and District. Christchurch Antique Bottles and Collectibles Club, Christchurch.
Fooks, C. E., 1862. Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand, 1862. Cartographic material. Christchurch [N.Z.]: C.E. Fooks. File Reference: CCLMaps 212667.
Godden, G.A., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Barrie and Jenkins Ltd, London.
LINZ, 1928. DP 9042, Canterbury. Landonline.
Star. [Online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Strouts, F.S., 1877. Christchurch, Canterbury, 1877. Compiled from data supplied to City Council and District Drainage Board by Frederick. Strouts. Cartographic material. Christchurch, NZ: Ward and Reeves. File Reference: ATLMAPS ATL-Acc-3158
The Potteries, n.d.. A History of Stoke-on-Trent. [online] Available at http://www.thepotteries.org.
West Coast Times. [Online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
Wises New Zealand Post Office Directory. 1872-1979. Dunedin: H. Wise & Co.