So long and thanks for all the fish

Today’s my last day at Underground Overground Archaeology, the company I founded in 2006. This isn’t something I ever thought would happen, but then, when I look back on how my archaeological career has played out so far, there’s not much in it that I’d planned… I went to Otago to study archaeology, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do beyond be an archaeologist. Part way through my degree I developed a fascination for the Middle East and the origins of agriculture, but that disappeared after I went on my first excavation in New Zealand (possibly helped along by the discovery that I needed to have a certain level of competency in an ancient language to study the origins of agriculture). I ended up as a consultant because there wasn’t anyone else doing that in Christchurch when I finished my Masters degree (and that’s where I happened to be at the time). And then there were the earthquakes. And more archaeology than I could ever have imagined, including some incredible sites, loads and loads of data, discovering buildings archaeology, a huge collection of artefacts and the most amazing possibilities for research. Which has brought me to my last day here.

A (very small!) selection of the fantastic archaeological sites investigated since the earthquakes. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

It’s a day I’m facing with a mixture of excitement, trepidation and sadness. Excitement because of what I’m going to do next (more on that below) and, let’s face it, because I’m going to get more sleep (yay!) and not be engrossed in the minutiae (and stress) of running a business, when I’d rather be doing research. Trepidation because I have no idea how this is going to play out. And sadness because I’m leaving behind something I created and because I’m leaving behind my wonderful team. But, I’m happy that Underground Overground Archaeology is going to continue on without me and I’m confident I’m leaving it in good hands.

I’m going to miss my team – they’re what’s made Underground Overground Archaeology so great and they’ve been such a pleasure to work with. They’ve made me laugh every day, they’ve taught me so much, they’ve worked so hard and they’ve done some incredible archaeology – and written some awesome blog posts! They’re awesome people. Without them, Underground Overground Archaeology would never have succeeded or become what it is today.

Just a few of the faces that have passed through Underground Overground over the last few years. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

My team (past and present) are not the only awesome people I’ve met and worked with over the years – there have been some fantastic clients, too. And then there’s you, the readers of this blog. What an amazing thing this has been. I can still remember pushing ‘play’ on that first blog post four – four! – years ago and just how nervous I was about it. I had no idea it would turn out be so successful, so rewarding or so fun. I’ve loved being able to share our archaeological discoveries with you, and to be able to show just how awesome Ōtautahi/Christchurch’s history and archaeology is. And I’ve loved that we’ve had a range of contributors over the years and the variety they’ve brought to it, and the responses the different posts have elicited from readers.

The other thing I wanted to say is what a privilege it’s been to do archaeology in Christchurch for so long, and to learn so much about the city, its development, its stories and the people who built this place. It’s a rich and varied history, made all the more so by the archaeological work in the city and the stories uncovered and documented during this – and then shared here. And the stories we’ve shared are only a fraction of what we’ve found so far. You should see the list of potential blog posts… And no doubt you’ll see some of those stories in the future. I’m looking forward to reading them.

So, those new ventures. All things going well, I’ll be embarking on my PhD, looking at the development of Christchurch’s domestic architecture in the 19th century, particularly in relation to identity, capitalism, colonialism and all those good things. But as well as that, because I’m yet to learn the lesson of not taking too much on (which you’d think the last five or six years would have taught me), I’m going to be trying to find a permanent home for the artefacts recovered as a result of the earthquake archaeology and building a system to hold all the data we’ve recovered and make it widely available. Because what we have here is too important not to save and preserve for the future and because Ōtautahi/Christchurch is incredibly lucky to have this rich resource of data and fascinating stories about its past and the people who made this place and what it is today. Soon you’ll be able to follow the journey at (under development).

A glimpse into the material culture record of Ōtautahi/Christchurch. Image: J. Garland.

It’s been an incredible journey so far, this archaeology lark, and I’m really looking forward to continuing it in other ways and other forums. When I decided (aged 13) that this is what I wanted to do, I could never have imagined where it would take me or how it would play out. But I wouldn’t change a thing (although I’d love to have made a few less mistakes along the way…). I want to finish with a huge thank you to all those who’ve supported me along the way – my wonderful husband, family, friends, people I’ve employed, clients and readers. I couldn’t have done it without you.

Katharine Watson

7 thoughts on “So long and thanks for all the fish

  1. Good luck with your next venture Kat. Running a business does have a time-expiration element to it but I think you will find the skills you have learned (some through mistakes you mention) will prove to have their uses what ever you are doing. Great that you are to use the data you produced.


  2. You and your team have been an inspiration in Shakytown. Your professionalism, your humour and your diligence have all educated, amused and challenged your readers. I wish you all the best on the quest for a Post hole Digger qualification and for your dreams of an archaeological museum-type thing. Arohanui Katharine!

  3. Dear Katharine,
    As I have tramped along the oft times ill-defined paths of genealogical research, particularly on our mum’s side (NZ; Christchurch), sometimes I have encountered “Eurika!!” moments. Moments often comng in from ‘left field’ so to speak. Keys that have opened the lid on previously unobtainable passage. These in turn leading into a wealth of new understandings, as I excitedly delve into the new deluge of data.
    Yes my ‘jigsaw’ still has key pieces missing, but partly because of the parallel universe comonality these two ‘sciences’ share, and the exciting shared ‘findings’ you and the team have so excepionally well and kindly placed before us (shared.There’s that word again!!!), I am encouraged; in my own endeavours.
    To me, the word Endeavour conjours up sojourns. Optimistic exciting sojourns of discovery. And so to your good self, the U O A Teamus Extraordinarious, I wish you full sails fair weathers and good diggings, with ripe pickings.
    God Bless. You do us all a great service. Thankyou so so much.

  4. Thanks Kath. NZ archaeology wouldn’t be the same without you. Glad to hear the story continues. All the best for the next step in the journey. (And remember that it is 42 *.* or whatever you like it to be). H

  5. All the best for the future, Kat!
    I enjoyed my brief time working for Underground Overground Archaeology. I have learned a lot of things about Christchurch (and New Zealand). I liked your focus on the human aspect of the stuff we dig up, even when deadlines have to be met and just another ordinary report has to be generated. Without it, archaeology can be pretty tedious – says someone who’s stuck in a large room in the Middle East restoring pottery for weeks on end.

  6. Thanks for afascinating blog and for all the interesting work you have done in helping us understand our city.
    Let us know if you are interested in information on the unique aspects of Tiptree Cottage for your thesis.

  7. Dear Katherine,
    What a good move to make! You have a spectacular data base, human and computer based, at your finger tips. It must have been really frustrating over the past few years, seeing all the tangential stuff that needed to be dealt with, for which there was neither time no money. I seem to remember you getting exasperated with how many chicken bones you were finding in a 19th century Queenstown backyard, that you were excavating for me back in 1999. But you still persisted in getting every bone out of the rubbish pit before stopping for the day. So go for it and persist with building a really good thesis.

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