New Year, New Me

Every January I find myself saying the phrase “new year, new me” any time I do anything remotely healthy or out of the ordinary. Ate a salad: new year, new me. Went to the gym: new year, new me. Read a book rather than binge watching seven hours of Netflix in a row: new year, new me. I’m a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Every year I resolve to get fit, do more with my free time, actually put money into my savings account, make more of an effort to catch up with people, stop buying a coffee every day. But as February dawns and 2019 really kicks into action, all of those January New Year’s resolutions are already falling by the way-side. So, as I sit here sipping my iced mocha that I guiltily spent seven dollars on, I can’t help but wonder if the nineteenth century residents of Christchurch were also in the habit of making (and breaking) New Year’s resolutions.

It turns out the practice of making New Year’s resolutions long pre-dates the Victorian era, by around 4,000 years. The ancient Babylonians are said to be the first people to celebrate the beginning of the New Year and to make New Year’s resolutions. During Akitu, a 12-day religious festival taking place in mid-March (their new year), the Babylonians either crowned a new king or reaffirmed their allegiance to the current king. As part of this festival they also made promises to their gods to pay their debts and return borrowed objects (not dissimilar to my recurring New Year’s resolution to actually save money). In return for keeping their word the gods would bestow favour on them for the coming year. So not quite my resolution to stop buying daily coffees, but a resolution nonetheless.

Whilst we can’t really associate any of the artefacts we find with the concept of New Year’s resolutions, we do find ceramic vessels that are connected to the ideal of being a better person. For instance, this coffee can is decorated with a pattern inspired by one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims. This particular pattern is illustrating the idea that you need to work hard in order to achieve success. Image: C. Watson.

Many other cultures also made New Year’s resolutions (or promises similar to a New Year’s resolution). The Romans made promises of good behaviour and offered sacrifices to Janus, the two-faced god that symbolically looked backwards to the previous year and forwards to the up-coming year. In 1740 John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, started the tradition of the Watch Night service. During the Watch Night service, Wesleyans would show penitence over shortcomings and failures from the previous year, whilst making resolutions of greater faithfulness for the year ahead. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the practice of making resolutions at the start of the year was common; but it was not until 1813 that the phrase “New Year’s Resolution” was first used.

The first reference to New Year’s resolutions that I found in New Zealand newspapers was written by the Lyttelton Times in 1860. Following their recap of the 1859 year in which they accused residents of talking too much, praised the progress of the settlement, and discussed the plans for a tunnel and railway between Christchurch and Lyttelton, the newspaper announced their New Year’s resolution was to fully support the building of the railway. Unfortunately for the Lyttelton Times, this resolution did not come to be, with work beginning in 1860 but stopping shortly after the contractors struck rock. It was not until 1867 that the Lyttelton rail tunnel was officially opened.

Similar to us now, many New Year’s resolutions were made to give up smoking and alcohol. Although it would seem that like us, people weren’t very good at keeping those resolutions.

Given that this joke was printed in the December 1907 issue of the Lake Country Press , it would appear that “Bronson” made it a whole 11 months before he went back to smoking.

The cycle of a typical January: making various excuses for cheating on New Year’s resolutions until ultimately deciding life is better with without New Year’s resolutions .

Given the quantity of satirical stories and jokes written about New Year’s resolutions, it would appear the making (and breaking) of resolutions was a common practice in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These satirical resolutions included promising to get on better with the boss, not being so stressed about things, and women resolving not to speak to their husbands (I highly recommend clicking on the links and reading the articles for yourself, they are quite hilarious).

When your New Year’s resolution is to accept the fact you’re single and embrace it.

As well as being used for humour, New Year’s resolutions appear to have become a big marketing ploy for businesses by the early twentieth century. Many advertisements listed in December and January encouraged potential customers to make it their New Year’s resolution to purchase new items from their stores, with everything from umbrellas to hats, and shoes advertised. My favourite marketing campaign that played on the idea of a New Year’s resolution is the one pictured below for Valaze, a type of skin cream. The New Year’s resolution the advertisement appeals to is the resolution to be beautiful, which I love because it makes it sound like women woke up on January 1st and said “Right, this year’s my year, I’m going to be beautiful now”.

Valaze, the ultimate solution for if you New Year’s resolution is to be beautiful .

From reading through these old newspaper stories and advertisements, it seems like our Victorian and Edwardian era ancestors had a similar approach to New Year’s resolutions as we do today. People made resolutions to be a “better” person, be that by giving up smoking, drinking, or becoming beautiful. But it was commonly accepted that many people did not stick to their resolutions, leading to the many satirical stories about people breaking their resolution. This practice of wanting to start the New Year afresh, to make it better than the last, is one we continue on today, and is one of the few ways we aren’t so different from our forebearers.

Clara Watson

‘Archaia’ and ‘Logos’, what even is archaeology?

The word archaeology comes from the Greek archaia (“ancient things”) and logos (“theory” or “science”). So, archaeologists study past societies through the material culture. In other words, we write the history analysing what people threw away or left behind. That’s what it is, although the origin of archaeology was quite different!

Back in the day, great discoveries of ancient civilizations enchanted the curiosity of those intrepid explorers who travelled the world looking for antiquities. The ruins of Troy and the image of Henrich Schliemann’s wife wearing the Priam’s Treasure (referred to as “Jewels of Helen”) as well as the Tutankhamun tomb are probably two of the most iconic finds of the last centuries. On 22 November 1922 when Lord Carnavon enquired anxiously “Can you see anything?” and Howard Carter replied “Yes, wonderful things”, expressing the grandeur of the ancient world. Those expeditions became the excuse to plunder historical sites to boost either personal or museum collections, with no further interest other than hunting treasures, contradicting the rightful purpose of archaeology.

Left: Sophia Schliemann wearing some of the gold jewellery from the Priam’s Treasure. Right: Howard Carter and the Tutankhamun tomb. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The archaeological discoveries at ancient cities also inspired the decoration on contemporary ceramics. Tea, table and serving wares also became a mechanism to emulate the magnificent past. Idyllic depictions of exotic and remote places, scenes with ruins of Greece, Rome and oriental inspired scenes are all relatively common finds on Christchurch archaeological sites.

Left: Medina patterned plate. It is likely that this pattern draws inspiration from Medina, the city in Saudi Arabia to the north of Mecca. Image: J. Garland. Right: drainer decorated with the Corinthian pattern, the name of which refers to one of the three Greek architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, with ruins and columns depicted on the scene. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

From left to right. We don’t know what the title of the pattern was, but the fragment clearly features a hand painted Grecian figure. The name of the following patterns: Egyp[t] or Egyp[tian] and Persian also evoking past cultures. However, in these examples, the scene depicted is unknown as we only found a tiny piece of ceramic! Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

At that time of treasure hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the object itself pulled out of its place was the centre of attention. And that’s not our job. Rather than treasures by themselves, artefacts are precious because they help us to interpret and understand how people used to live. That’s their actual value. And that’s possible to achieve when studying the objects in relation to the context in which they were found. During the latter half of the 20th century, archaeology grew up as science, with the development of methods of fieldwork, recording and cataloguing and the use of specific tools and technologies, shared with other disciplines like anthropology or geology. Archaeology is a social science, so archaeologists are scientists. Unlike fossickers or curio hunters, archaeologists always take notes and make drawings and plans. This is key, because archaeology is essentially preservation by record.

Archaeologist in action! Left: Hamish taking notes on site. Image: T. Anderson. Right: Hamish and I drawing and old curb in the city. Image: H. Williams.

By the sounds of it, the real profile of an archaeologist is unlike the idealised portrait of it. We are far away from one of the most popular archaeologists ever. Who pops up in our minds when thinking of archaeology? Of course, Indiana Jones… except for Hamish! Both share part of the outfit, it’s not the whip but the cool felt hat! Well, archaeologists wear usually safety helmets on site, but in their spare time, wherever archaeologists go, the hat would be a perfect accessory, aye?

Left: Indiana Jones. Image: Rex/Shutterstock. Right: Hamish wearing his felt hat at the Edwin Fox Maritime museum in Picton. Archaeologists do love to soak up the local history! Image: H. Williams.

The fictional image of a female archaeologist is probably even less accurate. Can’t find anything in common between Lara Croft and us. Well, she is presented as a highly intelligent, athletic and beautiful archaeologist… Maybe it is a little bit like us.

Beyond the stereotypes and the history of archaeology, constructed by and starring male archaeologists like Carter or Schliemann, there were women archaeologists as well, although it was ‘not a common thing, for obvious reasons’ (Star 15/04/1914: 7). Perhaps because those were so obvious (irony on going!), none of those reasons were nuanced… Anyway, the point is that Jeanette Le Fleming was an archaeologist. She married in 1885 Sir William Le Fleming, born in Christchurch in 1861, eight Baronet of Rydal and prominent settler in Taranaki district (Evening Post 3/11/1945: 11).

New Zealand’s newspapers in 1932 reported Jeanette’s return to New Zealand after a long trip. ‘In her capacity of archaeologist’ (crikey!), she had visited Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Finland, Latvia and Denmark and investigated ruins in Zimbabwe. Among her experiences overseas, she considered her study of the ruins at Zimbabwe the most interesting of her professional experiences. There Jeanette analysed the acropolis and temple erected under the influence of Babylonian civilization. She wrote many articles on travel subjects, ancient history and archaeology. She published under a nom de plume, ‘which she keeps in complete secret’ and not even her sister was aware of her identification with a certain writer and archaeologist (Evening Post 25/01/1932: 10). Apart from Europe and Russia, Jeanette also travelled to Central and South America, India, China and Japan, among many other places. She preferred travelling alone (yes, a pioneer of women solo travellers!) as she was never afraid, and always keen to nature, climates, archaeology, medieval and other modern curiosities, as well as the present economic conditions of each country (Evening Star 14/12/1936).

Honestly, I’m so jealous! What an inspirational woman! Loving what I also love (and archaeologist in general!), travelling, exploring new places and cultures, being curious all the time, asking questions and looking for answers! Eventually, Jeanette Le Fleming died at her home in 1944, after a long and undoubtedly interesting life! (Evening Post 3/05/1944: 8).

Jeanette Le Fleming. Image: Evening Star 24/09/1938.

As archaeologists working in post-earthquake Christchurch, we also have stories and the archaeology of the early city to tell you through Christchurch Uncovered blog, Facebook, Instagram and public archaeology events. Unquestionably, scientifically recording the past is the best way to preserve it in partnership with all of you, committed people, aware of the significance of our heritage as the witness of the history, the vestiges of the past from which we can learn so much.

To conclude, a summary that describes best what an archaeologist is, how our current day-to-day goes… Love it.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/ (Accessed October 2018).

Paper Past, 2018. [online] Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/ (Accessed October 2018).

Early Christchurch women, breaking the rules: the exhibition.

The ideal Victorian woman

In Victorian society, a woman was to be meek, mild, virtuous and peaceful (Whiteside 2007). She was expected to marry and have children. She would stay at home, looking after her children and her husband and keeping the house perfectly. Public affairs were men’s matters, although a woman might engage in charitable or other social works, but nothing that could in any way be construed as ‘masculine’. She was selfless – everyone else always came first. She certainly wasn’t involved in politics, and nor did she run a business. At least, that was the theory!

Left: M Heslop & Co (Christchurch) fl 1870s: Portrait of unidentified man, woman and child. Ref: PA2-2063. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23056667. Right: well, it would be an alternative middle class family! Image: Observer 14/11/1903.

In fact, this standard was mostly applied to middle class women, and it seems to have been much less unusual for working class women to, well, work. But there were middle class women who broke these ‘rules’ of Victorian society too, in a range of ways. Discovering the lives of a number of these women in 19th century Christchurch – and our fascination with their ‘hidden’ lives – has led us to curate an exhibition: Women breaking the rules. You can see the physical display at Rewind at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Sunday 14 October, and also follow these women’s stories online via our Instagram exhibition @womenbreakingtherules.

Designed by A. Gibson.

But regardless of class, women were always defined in relation to the men in their life, whether father, brother or husband. So, being a spinster could be difficult and challenging. Much as we might not like it in this day in age, men provided often critical financial security for the women in their lives, particularly in a world where there was no pension or unemployment benefit, let alone a domestic purposes benefit. In fact, there was no state support of any kind in New Zealand until the end of the 19th century, and the poor were reliant on charities for support.

Unlike spinsters, widows seem to have had far more freedom and to have been more ‘respectable’ than unmarried women. While their situation might have been financially difficult, the range of jobs society approved of them taking on was broader than the range available for single women. And widows – as in some of the stories here – often ended up running their husband’s businesses, meaning they took on a variety of professions (Bishop 2012).

Women and work

Yes, women did work in the Victorian era! And not just as domestic servants – although this was far and way the most common occupation for women. In fact, some women ran businesses of their own. The jobs that women took on, though, and even many of the businesses they ran, tended to involve caring, or to be domestic in character. Jobs like teaching or nursing were both acceptable for middle class women (Bishop 2012).

Working class women could take on quite a range of work: dressmaker, needlework, hotelkeeping, storekeeping, confectionary, haberdashery, drapery and so on. Women could also earn money by taking in boarders, doing laundry or by looking after other women’s children. And let’s not ignore that they could be prostitutes. These were all ways of earning money that might fly under the radar and not be recorded officially (Bishop 2012).

Just relaxing under a tree, along with other women, working in the seaside or the countryside, riding a horse… working women and classy ones, all sort of women depicted through the artefacts! Image: J. Garland, C. Watson and M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Telling women’s stories

As regular readers of the blog will know, researching the lives of most people who lived in 19th century New Zealand is tricky – official records can be patchy or may not even exist (Minchinton 2017). People only turned up in the newspapers if they were famous, got in trouble or were advertising for servants, leasing or selling properties. Unless someone has a really unusual name, you often can’t be certain you’re researching the right person.

Mary Portelli, the antithesis of the Victorian ideal, a woman in endless trouble! Images. Right: Star 29/05/1895: 3. Left: Southland Times 20/09/1906: 2.

Studying women’s lives is even harder. For one thing, they changed their surname when they married. Then, they were often referred to only as Mrs…, without their first name, or including their husband’s name instead – for example, Mrs L. J. Smith. Women who ran businesses often traded under their husband’s name, or didn’t advertise at all (Bishop 2012). And, in general, women’s activities meant they didn’t end up in the newspaper.

The branded china L. J. Smith – and presumably Elizabeth, L. J. Smith’s wife – used at events he organised as caterer. Image: C. Dickson.

Despite these difficulties, archaeology and history reveal the lives of six Christchurch women who, in one way or another, broke the rules of late 19th and early 20th century society: Fanny Cole, prohibitionist; Elizabeth Robinson, chemist; Sarah Gault, dressmaker; Elizabeth Smith, caterer; Caroline Rantin, timber and coal merchant; and Mary Portelli, woman in trouble.

There are no Māori women in this exhibition, unfortunately, because we’ve not found any record of Māori women living in 19th century Christchurch. This isn’t to say that they weren’t, just that we’ve not found them yet. If you want to learn more, we highly recommend checking out the book He Reo Wāhine: Māori Women’s Voices from the Nineteenth Century.

Why are these women important?

These six women were not the only exceptional ones who broke the rules. It turns out that there were many more women pushing the boundaries of Victorian society than we initially expected. The six women we’ve featured in this exhibition serve to highlight the lives and occupations of all these women, along with their concerns and daily battles and how they struggled against what was accepted and respectable (Whiteside 2007), whilst working within the confines of the ideals of that time. But slowly, slowly, pushing these boundaries would come to change society as a whole. So, let’s look at the archaeology and the historical record and bring women into the picture!

This exhibition is a joint production between Underground Overground Archaeology and the Christchurch Archaeology Project.

Katharine Watson and Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References 

Bishop, Catherine, 2012. “Commerce Was a Woman: Women in Business in Colonial Sydney and Wellington.” PhD thesis, Australian National University.

Minchinton, Barbara, 2017. “’Prostitutes’ and ‘lodgers’ in Little Lon: construction a list of occupiers in nineteenth-century Melbourne”. Australasian Historical Archaeology, 35, pp. 64-70.

Whiteside, Heidi, 2017. “’We Shall Be Respectable’: Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893”. MA thesis, University of Canterbury.

What we find from the Antipodes

‘If you dig a hole through the centre of the Earth, you would arrive in New Zealand’. As Spanish children, we learnt that at school. Spain is the Antipodes of New Zealand. Both countries are at the same time joined and separated by geography. Beyond that, other connections arise between the two sides of the world either under the ground or over the ground.

Pete is digging a hole in a Christchurch site. Where is he able to reach going deeper under the ground? Keep in mind that the Antipodes of Christchurch is Foz, a town in the region of Galicia, north of Spain… Image: A. Trendafilov.

Luckily, as archaeologists, we don’t have to excavate too deep below Christchurch before we uncover traces of Spain. When I come across these rare finds relating to where I am from, a feeling of joy, but also nostalgia comes over me.

Thinking about Spain, people often identify the paella as our national dish. But, the regions of Spain are so different, from the landscapes and weather to the culture, language, history and food. Such diversity is what I like the most because that’s what makes Spain what it is. And yes, paella is our speciality in Valencia, cooked with chicken, rabbit and snails in inland regions, or with seafood on the coast. Either ways, it’s yummy!

Paella. This one is a veggie version that we cooked a couple of weeks ago. It was delicious! Image. M. Lillo Bernabeu.

The next thought (or perhaps the first for some) to come to mind when considering Spain is flamenco. Flamenco is probably the most well-known Spanish tradition for almost everybody around the world. Flamenco is an essential part of the cultural identity in Andalusia, the south of Spain. This dance is characterised by its emotional intensity, expressive movements of the arms, tapping of the feet and the use of castanets. Castañuelas, a hand-held percussion instrument often associated with Spanish folklore, have a long history going back thousands of years. So, it was a bit surprising and unique to find a pair of wooden castanets in a 19th century Christchurch site! They first appear in New Zealand newspapers in 1847 as part of a Charles Dickens story and seem to have been advertised for sale from the mid-1860s – early 1870s (New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian 14/07/1847: 3, Daily Southern Cross 10/12/1873: 1).

Left: the pair of castanets found on a Christchurch archaeological site. When my colleagues first found them, they thought they were little wooden owls, and now they can’t un-see the owls! Image: J. Garland. Right: me, my hands, playing castanets. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Besides the castanets, other artefact types more frequently found, like ceramics or glass bottles, also have Spanish nuances. While we are used to seeing ceramic patterns inspired by the Ancient Greek or Rome, Oriental themes or European country images, those inspired by Spain sceneries are quite scarce and unusual for the New Zealand consumers. However, a few patterns identified by name are directly associated with my homeland. The scenes are usually idealisations rather than realistic images of the place, produced by the potters to supply the consumer’s demand. But, whoever purchased these ceramics enhancing Spanish imagery had the chance to travel to the Antipodes through their vessels, and of course, an exquisite taste! Based on the examples found in Christchurch so far, it seems that Andalucia, the region of the south of Spain with its Medieval past, was quite inspirational for the manufacturers.

Andalusia patterned plate. The central scene features Spanish monks or friars praying in front of a monument with a building in the foreground and trees around. Image: J. Garland.

This is the first Montilla pattern identified from a Christchurch site. It’s a lovely romantic pattern with trees, a lake and a building in the background. The building might be a church based on the religious imagery noted, such as crosses and a female statue standing on the doorway, likely to have represented a virgin or saint. The name Montilla refers to a Spanish town in the province of Cordoba, Andalucia. It gives its name to Amontillado sherry and is also known for its pottery (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 252). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Montilla pattern, again! This second version of Montilla pattern features a single flower in the centre of the vessel instead. Both Montilla patterns were made by Davenport (1794-1887; Godden 1991: 189). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu

Following Spanish traces through 19th century Christchurch, some bottles also remind me of my country of origin. They weren’t made in Spain, but the embossing included the name of the product in English, and also in Spanish! The chosen ones are two of the Barry’s Celebrated Toilet Preparations: ‘Tinte Negro’ (Black Hair Dye) and his skin tonic ‘Crema de Perlas’ (Pearl’s Cream). Alexander C. Barry was a New York wigmaker, selling cosmetics and other personal grooming goods, in particular, related to the hair care. All of these were widely advertised in New Zealand newspapers throughout the 19th well into the 20th century (Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4).

Left: Crema de Perlas de Barry. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Barry’s Pearl Cream advertisement. Image: Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4.

Left: Tinte Negro. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu. Right: Barry’s hair dye advertisement. Image: Otago Daily Times 12/04/1873: 4.

Certainly, it’s an empiric fact that if we dig a hole in Christchurch we do find Spanish evidence through the artefacts, without the need to keep digging beyond the centre of the Earth. Yet I can’t finish my rambling on Spaniards in Christchurch by focusing only on what is found under the ground, because walking around Christchurch and looking overground (see what I did there!), the Spanish influence is visible in the architecture as well. Thinking of Spanish architecture, everybody I’m sure agrees, our benchmark is Antonio Gaudi, Modernisme, Barcelona. Spain’s stylish influence is visible on one of the most iconic streets in Christchurch though. The beautiful, colourful and distinctive buildings of New Regent Street were designed by Francis Willis and built in the Spanish Mission style dating to 1932. They combine some of the characteristic traits of the style, like medallions, shaped gables, tiled window hoods and twisted columns (Donna R. 2015). This stylistic movement arose in the early 20th century as a revival of the Spanish Colonial architecture carried out in the Americas during the period of colonization.

Spanish friends walking on New Regent Street and spell bounded by the lovely buildings. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

To conclude, after digging holes under the ground and looking over the ground in Christchurch, there is a historical connection between New Zealand and Spain that I couldn’t miss. All of us are aware of those European settlers, who arrived in Aotearoa during the 19th century. Among these intrepid immigrants, there is at least one Spaniard. He didn’t dig a hole through the centre of the Earth to arrive in the Antipodes. He took a boat instead. His name was Manuel Jose Frutos Huerta, a whaler born in 1811 in Valverde del Majano, Segovia, in a region of the centre of Spain. Manuel Jose landed in Port Awanui, near Ruatoria in the early 1830s and never left the land of the long white cloud. He married five maori women of the Ngati Porou iwi, had eight children and became a successful trader. Nowadays, his descendants number up to 14,000 whanau members, making the Paniora New Zealand’s largest recorded family. Well, this would have been the Spanish contribution to the mixture of diverse cultures that make New Zealand what it is today.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu

References

Burns, D., 2010. 180 years of solitude. [online] Available at: https://www.nzgeo.com/stories/180-years-of-solitude/?state=requireRegistration [Accessed July 2018].

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 1780‐1880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

Daily Southern Cross [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

Donna, R. 2015. New Regent Street. [online] Available at: https://my.christchurchcitylibraries.com/blogs/post/new-regent-street/ [Accessed July 2018].

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

New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

Otago Daily Times. [online] Available at: www.paperspast.natlib.govt.nz. [Accessed July 2018]

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.