2015. Another year down!

It’s that time of year again. Behold! Some of our favourite discoveries and images from 2015. It’s been an eventful twelve months.

Archaeology happened. Sites were surveyed, excavated, photographed, investigated, disseminated and ruminated upon. Clues were followed and mysteries unravelled. Adventures were had. Memories were made.

Kirsa

Kirsa learned not to let other people set the total station up for her, lest they make it too high and force her to stand on tip-toes. Image: K. Bennett.

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

We really brought the glamour back to archaeology this year. This site yielded our largest assemblage for the year and ended up being one of the most interesting sites we’ve investigated in Christchurch, encompassing entrepreneurship, early artefacts, political machinations and many other aspects of the city’s history. Image: K. Bone.

Lloyd St. Credit C

Archaeologists captured in the wild. This is one of our more recent excavations, which revealed a layer of burned artefact material across the site. Figuring out the story behind it is going to be fun. Image: C. Dickson.

Fran, from FB

In which Fran found a foundry floor and frantically forged ahead to figure out the foundations of her find. Image: H. Williams.

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We did a lot of work in Lyttelton over the year, including a site that yielded a large collection of artefacts. It’s one of the more unusual ones we’ve worked on in a while, excavated as it was underneath a house that had been raised onto pylons above the archaeologists. Image: P. Mitchell.

Throwing shade. Image: K. Webb.

Throwing shade. Image: K. Webb.

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The Manchester Street fire tank! This was built in 1885 for the Fire Brigade and held 114,000 litres of water to be used by the brigade during their fire fighting endeavours. Image: H. Williams.

building and drawing

One of the more complicated houses we recorded in 2015. A house was built on the site in the 1860s, followed by a 13 room house built in 1871 by Wyatt the grocer, who lived there until the 1890s. Eventually, in 1893 the whole house was dismantled and rebuilt on 1890s foundations using some of the original 1871 material, leaving a mixture of 1871 and 1893 materials and styles in the house to baffle future archaeologists. Photo: P. Mitchell. Drawing: K. Webb.

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The oldest building we recorded this year, a cottage constructed in 1851. Image: F. Bradley.

Annthalina the gangster 2ed

Sometimes, buildings archaeology can have strange effects on people. Case in point, all it takes to bring out a historian’s inner gangster is a little heritage related graffiti. Image: F. Bradley.

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In which two muddy archaeologists prove themselves to be peace loving and a giant nerd. Image: K. Bone.

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Many animals were encountered over the year, from cats  and dogs to these curious goats. Image: H. Williams.

I already regret including this photo. Image: J. Garland.

I already regret including this photo. Image: K. Bone.

Site work was just the tip of the iceberg. Discoveries were discovered. Exhibitions were exhibited. Analysts analysed things. Photographers photographed even more things. Researchers researched all the things. Need I go on?

A rather unusual walking stick, featuring a sheep foot masquerading as a handle, complete with small metal shoe at the hoof. Image: J. Garland.

A rather unusual walking stick, featuring a sheep foot masquerading as a handle, complete with small metal shoe at the hoof. This was found underneath the floorboards of a turn of the century house in the city. Image: J. Garland.

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Part of a huge rubbish pit filled with bottles discovered in Rangiora. Quite an unusual assemblage, this one. Image: M. Hennessey.

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An Italian Buildings patterned plate emerging from the earth. Image: J. Garland.

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An inscribed brick, found to have possible connections to the great-great-grandfather of one of our archaeologists. Image: H. Williams.

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Analysis got a little unconventional at times. We persevered. Image: J. Garland.

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Beard analysis! Microscope also used to identify archaeological textiles. We do actually do some work on occasion. Image: Underground Overground.

Castanets! Image: J. Garland.

Castanets! Or musical wooden owls, if you prefer. Image: J. Garland.

A Christchurch trade token, used as a form of substitute currency in the city in the 19th century, when actual currency was a bit scarce. Image: J. Garland.

A Christchurch trade token, used as a form of substitute currency in the city in the 19th century, when actual currency was a bit scarce. These aren’t common finds at all. Image: J. Garland.

One of the more interesting stories we came across in Papers Past this year. Image:

Many, many treasures were discovered through the delight that is Papers Past. This is both one of the more interesting stories we came across this year and one of the most recurring. The Mystery of the Severed Hand was, apparently, one for the storybooks. Image: Press 14/06/1905: 8.

This, on the other hand, is easily the most sexist thing we found this year. Fair warning, may induce speechlessness and incredulous laughter. Image:

This, on the other hand, is easily the most sexist thing we found this year. Fair warning, may induce speechlessness and incredulous laughter. Image: Observer 29/04/1882: 100. 

Artefacts

Even more artefacts. A very tiny sample of the stuff we’ve worked with this year. Image: J. Garland.

We held several exhibitions throughout the year, including the online 'Pieces of the Past' and 'Boom or Bust', shown here. Image: J. Garland.

We also held several exhibitions throughout the year, including the online ‘Pieces of the Past’ and ‘Boom or Bust’, shown here. Image: J. Garland.

It’s been quite the busy year, really. We need a nap, or we might fall over from exhaustion.

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Whoops. Too late. Image: K. Bennett.

From everyone at Underground Overground, Merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all! We’ll see you in 2016 (the blog will be back in February).

Everyone 3

 

A crumbling mystery…

North and west elevations of the house.

Regarded as Christchurch’s oldest home, this two storey farm cottage was built in 1851-2 for Mr. Parkerson, a surgeon. It was built with 600 mm thick scoria stone blocks quarried from Lyttelton and roofed with Welsh slate.

Exposed wall structure in upstairs bedroom.

600 mm thick south wall of original stone cottage.

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Stonemason’s minor blunder hidden in the cupboard under the stairs.

The layout of this cottage is unusual, and some have suggested it was a common design back in Norfolk, England. Downstairs, the two rooms are orientated around central back-to-back stone fireplaces, with a chimney that runs up through the centre of the house, and there’s no central hall.

Central fireplace in the east downstairs main room.

Central fireplace in the west downstairs main room.

Oddly enough, this small cottage has two mirroring staircases at either end of the house, each leading to two small upstairs bedrooms. But perhaps the most bizarre aspect about this building is the absence of a connecting doorway to allow the occupants to access both ends of the house.

Staircase at east end of house.

Staircase at west end of house.

Upstairs main bedrooms once separated by a brick wall (which collapsed in the earthquakes).

Original casement windows in upstairs bedroom.

Exposed early split lath used to constructed a wall in the west downstairs main room.

The layout of this mid-19th century stone cottage presents us with whole new set of questions about the mysterious ways our ancestors lived, and will help us understand the development of Christchurch’s domestic architecture.

Francesca Bradley

Let’s paint the town, shall we?

So much of the archaeology that we deal with on a daily basis, particularly from an artefacts perspective, is associated with the everyday domestic lives of Christchurch’s 19th century residents that it becomes quite easy to forget about the other industrial and commercial aspects of life in the city in the 1800s. Every now and then, however, we are reminded that – as is the case today – there was another side to Christchurch that was just as important, if not quite as archaeologically obvious.

On that note, while working through a box of artefacts recently, I came across several stoneware jar stoppers with DAVID STORER AND SONS / GLASGOW impressed on the top, circling the image of a bell. As it turns out, David Storer and Sons were oil and paint manufacturers operating during the latter decades of the 19th century. They made all kinds of paint, oil and varnishes, from olive and linseed oils to white lead paints, yellow ochre paints and several types of varnish. Presumably, some of these were intended as artist’s paints, while others were made for more utilitarian or structural purposes (still artistic in a way, though, right?).

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

David Storer and Sons stoneware lid. Image: J. Garland.

Their products show up in shipping manifestos and advertisements from the 1870s well into the 1890s, despite a plethora of notices in 1887 that the company ‘failed’ (i.e. went bankrupt). I have no idea what happened after this point or how their products continued to be sold in the 1890s – the aftermath clearly wasn’t as sensational or newsworthy as the failure. The lids that we found are likely to have belonged to one (or several) of the builders, carpenters and painters located on the site during the latter decades of the 19th century. The paint, oil or varnish contained within those jars could have been used to paint houses, furniture, cabinets, paintings, fences, machinery and who knows what else.

And, it got me thinking. Researching the life and times of David Storer and Sons led me to wonder about 19th century paint in general: how it was made, what it was used for, whether we have other archaeological evidence for its use in Christchurch. It’s not something we normally think about, archaeologically, but  – as it is today – it would have been everywhere back then.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

A paint joke from 1890. One of the many strange results discovered during the research process. Image: Evening Star 3/11/1890: 2.

As it turns out, there were several types of paint available to New Zealand residents in the 19th century, from lead and zinc based mixes to paint made from iron oxide, asbestos (yes, you read that right), hematite, rubber, potatoes and skim milk. Some of these were available wet, while others arrived in the country in powdered form (just add water!). There was luminous paint (used on buoys), sanitary paint (not what you think, or, at least, not what I thought…), disinfecting paint, heat sensitive paint and even fire-resistant paint. Several articles and advertisements detail experiments undertaken to see how well certain paints helped to prevent fires, most of them surprisingly successful.

Advertisements also suggest that a range of colours were also available, from yellow ochre to red and white lead paints, white zinc paints and ‘Prussian blue’ (apparently made from the ashes of horses hooves). Lead based paints were very common and, as you would expect, sometimes affected the health of those around them. One account tells the story of a whole family who suffered from lead poisoning thanks to a painter who lost his lead paint covered brush at the bottom of the rainwater tank and contaminated their drinking water.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

The things you can do with milk. Who knew? Image: Bruce Herald 18/09/1900, p. 2.

Interestingly, New Zealand appears to have had its own paint manufacturing industry fairly early on, with the New Zealand Hematite Paint Company established operating in the 1880s with factories in Nelson and Collingwood. A Mr Louisson was making hematite paint in Timaru in the 1860s or 1870s (later bought out by the NZ Hematite Paint Company), and another paint manufacturing company based in Thames made oxide of iron paint in the 1880s. Smith and Smith, now a name synonymous with window glass repair, were also active as paint manufacturers and distributors from the early 20th century onwards (often with slightly less than PC advertisements).

Despite the strong local industry, still more types of paint were imported from overseas, with shipments coming from America (Vulcan paint!), Australia and the United Kingdom. Scotland does appear to have had its fair share of paint exporters, with several advertisements for Scottish paints appearing in contemporary newspapers.

The uses of paint in urban life haven’t changed much over the years, although there are perhaps fewer articles now suggesting that we should paint all our ships with luminous paint to prevent collisions. Hematite paint was used on everything from railways to most metal structures (it was less corrosive than lead paint on metal). Sanitary paint, despite it’s name, was used for internal walls and “all outside work in wood, irons or stone, from a steamship to a golf ball.” Other uses noted included priming, machinery, bridges and barns, agricultural implements and branding sheep.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Some of the proposed uses for luminous paint in the 19th century. Image: Evening Star 17/03/1883, p. 3.

Unfortunately, when it comes to archaeological evidence of paint use in the past – other than the occasional container lid – material is scarce, especially on 19th century buildings. Many buildings are, of course, repainted over the years (it would be very unusual to find the original coat of paint without any later layers over the top). Interior and exterior decoration of houses adapted to match the changing fashions of the last century and a half, so it stands to reason that very little evidence of 19th century house paint remains, particularly on external walls and weatherboards.

Additionally, in our experience, a lot of 19th century houses used wallpaper rather than paint as interior decoration. We occasionally find paint on skirting boards and trim (under several layers of later wallpaper and paint), but it doesn’t appear to have been used much on the internal walls themselves. Sometimes, we’ve come across instances where the floors or stairs of a building have been painted – often on either side of a rug – but it’s difficult to tell whether this is Victorian or not. Other times, we’ve seen paint used as a decorative element in the interior design – used to colour a ceiling rose, for example, or stencilled on to the ceiling.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted staircase. Note the unpainted strip in the center, where the rug would have gone. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: K. Webb.

A painted ceiling rose. Image: M. Hennessey. 

The relatively infrequent use of paint in the interior of houses may have been partly a cost or fashion issue, but was probably largely a result of the materials used to form the walls. Lath and plaster, for example, is far more suited to wallpaper than to paint, as is scrim – both of which were often used on internal walls. Tongue and groove match lining could sometimes be painted, but is far more likely to have been varnished instead. In truth, it seems like paint would have been used most often on exterior walls – which, of course, we’re unlikely to see. It’s weird really – for something so visible, paint is strangely invisible in the archaeological record.

There’s so many aspects of life that we take for granted – both in the past and now – things that are all around us all the time, which form the fabric of our material worlds and set the scene for the stageshow of our lives (to get all melodramatic and Shakespearian on you). The relative archaeological obscurity of something like paint is especially ironic, given the purpose for which it is intended. It’s just not something I thought about, until an unknown Scottish company and a small stoneware lid reminded me to look for it. Yet another reminder that the smallest of objects can have the greatest of stories to tell.

Jessie Garland

A poetic reflection on heritage buildings

As building archaeologists we record and analyse the form, structure and ornamentation of 19th century dwellings to learn about the lives led by past occupants.

The Victorian era was a time of invention and achievement. Society was dominated by middle-class morality as they relentlessly pursued comfort and material wealth. Their houses expressed the energy and exuberance of this time, as they presented their best face to the public.

These efforts can be directly observed through the choice of internal linings used in 19th century dwellings. Wealthy homes were commonly lined with timber laths and lime plaster, while poorer houses used roughly sawn butted sarking boards. When we recorded a modest workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop we uncovered some of these roughly sawn butted sarking boards in the parlour, a room purposely decorated for public display.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman's cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Roughly sawn butted sarking boards used in parlour of workman’s cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

Over time, however, seven layers of wallpaper had been applied to this room to disguise the poor lining material.

Original layer 1

The first layer of wallpaper applied was a mid-Victorian pattern design of purple and light brown diamond shapes dating to between the 1860s and 1870s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 2

Applied on top of the original layer was a brown wallpaper with a blue flowers and leaves pattern design, dating to the 1880s. Image: F. Bradley.

Layer 4

The fourth layer of wallpaper dated to the 1850s and had design elements of the Edwardian period, with green diamond shapes and pink roses. Image: F. Bradley.

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The last layer was a pearlescent wallpaper with a design pattern of white, pink and yellow flowers, dating to between the 1920s and 1930s. Image: F. Bradley.

When we record these historic dwellings, we try decipher the social conventions at play during the Victorian era and how they influenced the way in which their dwellings were decorated. But when it came to recording this workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop, we were confronted with the juxtaposition of how 19th century society decorated their houses and a very unique way one 21st century occupant had decided to decorate her humble abode.

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Street-facing elevation of workman’s cottage in the Avon Loop. Image: F. Bradley.

In its irreparable state the creative owner of this house took to it with a fine paint brush and turned its rough-cast plastered walls into a mural of poetry.

The street-facing south elevation bore the words of Percy Shelley’s sonnet ‘Ozymandias’.

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Percy Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ painted on the street-facing south elevation. Image: F. Bradley.

Ozymandias – Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

(Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

‘Ozymandias’ was one of English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most famous works, first published in 1818. Shelley’s works often attracted controversy as they spoke out against oppression, convention and religion (Source: Wikipedia, 2001).

His poem ‘Ozymandias’ acts as a a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of political power. Its central theme explores the indiscriminate and destructive power of history, by contrasting all leaders’ pretentions to greatness and their inevitable decline. It is a powerful statement about the insignificance of human beings to the passage of time (Wikipedia, 2001).

Along the north elevation of the cottage were the words of Denis Glover’s iconic New Zealand poem ‘The Magpies’.

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Denis Glover’s poem ‘The Magpies’ painted along the north elevation of the cottage. Image: F. Bradley.

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First section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.

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Second section of ‘The Magpies’. Image: F. Bradley.

The Magpies – Denis Glover

When Tom and Elizabeth took the farm
The bracken made their bed,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Tom’s hand was strong to the plough
Elizabeth’s lips were red,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Year in year out they worked
While the pines grew overhead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

But all the beautiful crops soon went
To the mortgage-man instead,
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

Elizabeth is dead now (it’s years ago)
Old Tom went light in the head;
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies said.

The farm’s still there. Mortgage corporations
Couldn’t give it away.
And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle
The magpies say.

(Source: Xyphir, 2011).

‘The Magpies’ by Denis Glover is one of New Zealand’s most famous poems, first published in 1941. This poem relates to the passage of time as it laments the fate of farmers in hard economic times (Wikipedia, 2006). The hard-working farming couple become victims of an oppressive social system that exploits the working man. In this poem, the cruel and impartial nature of time is personified by the distinctive caw of the magpies, as they watched the farmers struggle away (Shieff, 2008).

As architectural styles and their decorative features can help us understand the conditions of bygone generations, the choice of poetry used here to decorate this workman’s cottage may be a reflection on the current post-quake social condition of Canterbury. Or perhaps the owner was merely commenting on the passage of time and its indiscriminate treatment of her home. Who knows, as archaeologists we can only speculate…

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Words of wisdom painted next to the dwelling’s front door. Image: F. Bradley.

Francesca Bradley.

References

Wikipedia, 2001. Ozymandias. [online] (22 September 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozymandias [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Xyphir, 2011. The Magpies – Denis Glover. A poem a day, [online] 26 April 2011. Available at: http://nzpoems.blogspot.co.nz/2011/04/magpies-denis-glover.html [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Wikipedia, 2006. The Magpies. [online] (2 May 2015) Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magpies [Accessed 1 October 2015].

Shieff, Sarah, 2008. Denis Glover, 1912 – 1980. [online] Wellington: Victoria University. Available at: file:///Users/Shebitch/Downloads/716-622-1-PB%20(1).pdf [Accessed 1 October 2015].

 

 

The dilapidatedly grand villa

This week we are treating you to a photographic tale of the life of a Cantabrian abode. Come with us now on a journey through time and space, to the wonderful world of dilapidated Victorian villas…

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Between 1904 and 1905 Mr. Andrew McNeil Paterson, a salesman, built this rather grand residence. In its former glory the house had a total of eight rooms, including a scullery, pantry and bathroom. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Mr. Paterson’s dining room with faceted bay windows. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of decorative cornice in the dining room. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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The perforated ceiling rose in the dining room. Perforated ceiling roses helped ventilate rooms with fireplaces. This one was the most decorative ceiling rose that remained in the villa. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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The turret bay window of the drawing room. The door on the left led to the modern addition of a bathroom, where the original verandah would have run. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of unperforated ceiling rose in drawing room. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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Original perforated ceiling rose in the hallway. Image: Peter Mitchell.

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Ornate cornice detail of the original hallway. Image: Kirsa Webb.

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Detail of a perforated ceiling rose in a bedroom, which was significantly smaller than the other remaining ceiling roses in the house. Image: Peter Mitchell.

Despite its grandiose design, Mr. Paterson soon grew tired of the villa and sold the house just four years later. Over the next couple of decades the dwelling was home to a collection of different occupants. However, as was common practice in Christchurch during the Depression, this ornate villa was eventually divided up into a jigsaw puzzle of single bedroom flats.

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2011 plan of Mr. Paterson’s former residence divided into four flats. Image: Francesca Bradley.

And it was this jigsaw of four derelict flats Underground Overground Archaeology had to piece together to bring you the story of Mr. Andrew McNeil Paterson and his once grandiose residence.

Francesca Bradley