Virtual Horizons: how heritage is communicated or forgotten

One of the most obvious, but frequently overlooked, facts of archaeological investigation is that it is often a destructive process, and one that consumes a non-renewable resource. The awareness of this is particularly acute within the field of buildings archaeology, for unlike subsurface archaeology where there remains the constant possibility of an archaeological feature being unearthed; it is clear there is a dwindling inventory of pre-1900 structures. The economic factors such as development that drives the heritage sector are legislated for and administered by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga and private sector consultants, with the assessment of archaeological values largely determining how onerous the conditions for demolition and re-development will be. It is often tacitly understood that the commissioning of an archaeological report as a condition for an archaeological authority to demolish is sufficient mitigation for the irrevocable and destructive loss of New Zealand pre-1900 building stock. Whilst the rigor and detail of an archaeological report is essential, I would argue that the opportunity for providing the broader public with a more accessible and tangible way of engaging in New Zealand’s lost built environment has not yet been sufficiently met, with much of this information lost in the oblivion of ‘grey literature’. This situation is not helped by Heritage New Zealand’s practice of removing detailed information about listed buildings that have been demolished, further reducing the already scant amount of information about demolished heritage buildings available to the public.

In terms of visual representations one of the most common recording requirements is the production of two dimensional plans, sections, elevations, and other architectural details. Alongside photography this provides the primary visual record of a building. Advances in technology have reduced the time spent recording so that it is no longer necessary to record a building with a tape measure and graph paper as I was first taught, but the ways in which such information is shared and communicated still lag behind the building industry whose technical innovations are relied on so heavily by buildings archaeologists and heritage architects.

Example of Level 2 recorded elevation from a now demolished house in Christchurch. These kinds of images largely disappear after publication. Image: Michael Healey

Example of Level 2 recorded elevation from a now demolished house in Christchurch. These kinds of images largely disappear after publication. Image: Michael Healey

What I propose

 What I propose here is a publicly assessable 3D database of NZ heritage buildings. This would be a web-hosted platform where consultants would upload 3D data such as point clouds, photogrammetry, 2D elevations drawings – these could then be navigated zoomed and rotated, thus providing an accurate representation of our lost building stock for future generations.

What is photogrammetry and point cloud

 American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing states that photogrammetry is “the science and technology of  obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment through the process of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of electromagnetic radiant imagery and other phenomena” (aprs.org). A basic picture of a photogrammetry workflow would involve somebody with a camera or drone taking pictures of a building, importing the photo data into a computer program which would then process an exportable 3D model of the building that could then be hosted on-line. Point cloud is similar to photogrammetry and is usually captured with a 3D scanner. It provides a similar result but is generally a much faster recording process if somewhat more expensive due to the required equipment.

This is usually a three-step process that involves:

  • The creation of a complex 3D model (very processor intensive) where the photos are extracted, and a texture rich model is generated.

Photogrammetry virtual model heritage building, J. Ashford & Sons building in Birmingham. Image: Seeable.co.uk

  • The initially complex model is the reduced to simplified mesh that enables the efficient use within a 3D viewing environment.

Optimized mesh model J. Ashford & Sons building in Birmingham. Image: Seeable.co.uk

  • The photos are then texture mapped onto a 3D mesh model.

Texture mapped 3D model, J. Ashford and Sons building in Birmingham. Image: Seeable.co.uk

A video link of both photogrammetry and point cloud models is provided below and should provide some indication of the attractiveness and ease of use of such media for the end user

What is stopping this happening?

 Like most problems in professional life, they can be divided into two categories: technical and bureaucratic.

The technological problems are manifold, this first issue would be that of hosting. There are a variety subscription services (free to the end user) where 3D models can be hosted. But the optimal solution would be to have a New Zealand-based platform and preferably a government subsidised one. But stable long-term platforms such as sketchfab.com with over 3,000,000 users worldwide, is a viable alternative in lieu of a New Zealand-based site. One argument for democratising this process on an open platform is that it would enable the public to 3D print models of demolished heritage building and bring them back to life in a tangible way.

3D printed model produced from photogrammetry capture. Image: https://www.3dnatives.com/

The second technical issue is data security and avoiding obsolete formats, at the present time uncompressed TIFF is considered the gold standard for archiving digital photos and is all that would is required to reconstruct a 3D model in the case of data loss or eventual platform obsolescence.

The third issue is having personnel trained to capture adequate quality photography. A buildings archaeologist will often piggyback off architects and engineering consultants who will initially record a large site with a 3D scanner, sometimes with variable results. The below image is an ‘ortho-photo’ – a scale photographic elevation produced from point cloud data which can then be traced over in native CAD application to produce metric drawings. In this case several digital artefacts are reproduced in the image and will need to be corrected for by having recourse to photography.

Image of a 3D Point cloud ortho-photo prior to the production of CAD drawings. Image: modified Michael Healey

The cost of implementing this is quite affordable and would only require a digital SLR and several hundred dollars for an appropriate software option. The use of affordable drone technology paired with HD cameras makes such a workflow flow a cost-effective option over standard building recording techniques due to the reduced recording time, and had the added benefit that scale 2D elevations (a normal requirement of most building reports) can easily be extracted at a later time.

Example of measured elevation extracted as part of a 3D point cloud workflow from orthographic photo. Image: Michael Healey.

In fact, it has been proven that by using appropriate methods of image capturing and by using robust software, the high expense of 3D laser scanning can be completely replaced.

3D virtual model capture with the use of a drone. Image: project Hayastan in Armenia.

On the bureaucratic side of the equation there are two major problems. Firstly, there is the question of who would take responsibility for administering a visual database. In the case of sites of international significance web-hosting is often site-specific, but on the other end of the spectrum there is a push for a more democratic and crowd sourced photogrammetry, especially for museums and curated collections. This makes obvious sense for cultural institutions that lack financial and human resources for digitisation work, and there is no reason why this could not be scaled up to include large objects such as built structures. Such a strategy has been used successfully in digitally reconstructing lost artefacts and monuments that have been destroyed during recent middle east conflict, and the idea is clearly relevant to potential natural disasters. I would go as far as to suggest that Category 1 heritage listed buildings should be pre-emptively 3D scanned, a process that could piggyback off engineering and condition reports that would use the same data sets. It would seem to me that this would be better implemented at a regional level through local body council regulations as a best practice for significant buildings scheduled on district plans. Christchurch is the prime example, where this loss of place is felt most acutely in an urban environment. Unfortunately too few buildings were scanned prior to demolition following the 2011 earthquake, even so many of these point clouds that could be easily converted to 3D models in the public domain remain largely neglected, and provide a valuable if unrecognized resource for digital heritage projects

Assyrian lion 3D reconstruction. Image: sketchfab.com

But more broadly there needs to be a reassessment of how mitigation is understood for heritage management. The usual process when a developer attempts to demolish a heritage building is they have first proven that it is unfeasible to repair it for reuse or relocate it elsewhere, in which case assuming the assessment of values does not determine the building is of unique significance, it is then recorded prior to demolition. In the case of particularly significant buildings there is often additional monetary mitigation which might be, for example, directed to a local heritage fund. What I suggest is being lost in translation here is the understanding of mitigation relating to site specific intervention. The argument would go that if a structure is significant enough in terms archaeological values to warrant additional mitigation beyond the cost of commissioning a consultant’s report to the required standards, then these outputs should primarily be related to the production and preservation of site specific interpretations commensurate to the archaeological and historic heritage value of the building – 3D models are but one example of this. A non-virtual example of this often-missed opportunity is the too infrequent use of interpretative panelling, signage and other site-specific intervention that memorialize place. It should be noted that these two categories are not mutually exclusive, the overlapping of physical and virtual geographies is the next frontier in heritage management, with companies like http://www.virtimeplace.com/ producing apps that enable the viewer to walk through heritage sites and reconstruct a lost or degraded built environment based on an archaeologically accurate reconstruction. There is no reason why this technology could not be integrated with heritage signage and potentially broadened to incorporate other socially significant historical events where the connection between memory and the built environment has been disrupted. Overseas examples abound of the seamless integration of interpretive signage and multimedia that is incorporated into local body heritage planning policy, and should be understood as an aspect of forward looking and humane urban planning that takes some local responsibility for the inevitable consequences of development in New Zealand towns and cities.

Virtual image of a restored Mesquita de Cordoba taken from inside the building through the Virtimeplace.

What is being suggested here is really not that radical but requires a broadening of policy focus, one that takes further account of the stake the public has in its heritage. Such a shift would have the additional positive consequence of educating developers about the public interest in the management of heritage assets, one which is not merely a financial penalty, but a process of producing memory and cultural knowledge on a larger scale.

Michael Healey

It’s All Child’s Play

When I think of childhood in the 19th century, my mind goes back to visits to museums and heritage parks with rooms and displays set up to replicate key spaces in Victorian society: the household, the blacksmiths, the doctor’s office and the school. Visits to these places always instilled me with the opinion that the 19th century was not a good time to be a child.

This opinion had a multitude of influences. Tales of high child and infant mortality rates, with the impression of an accompanying belief that it was a waste of time to invest love and attention into children when they would most likely just die, coloured my perception of children’s home lives. If the child did survive, then they were most likely put to work as a chimney sweep or in a factory, where they would probably die because the industrial revolution was not known for its health and safety practices (at least not in the first part of the century). If they were lucky enough to go to school, then they probably got put in a corner with a dunce cap or were beaten with a cane. Various sayings like “spare the rod and spoil the child” and “children should be seen and not heard” enforced this opinion.

There is truth in this view. A quick search through the death notices in old newspapers, or a wander through an old cemetery, will very quickly show that many infants and children died at a young age. This is confirmed in infant mortality rate statistics, with the infant mortality rate fluctuating between 7.1% and 12.6% in the 19th century (in comparison the modern infant mortality rate is 0.4%). Tales of children working in factories will come up in almost any summary of the industrial revolution, as will stories of strict teachers in summaries on Victorian schools. But to say that life was completely awful for a Victorian child would be a mistake, and it is certainly not the impression given by the archaeological record here in Christchurch.

If I had to think of an artefact that encapsulated the worst aspects of Victorian childhood, then it would be this. This unassuming artefact is the stopper from an infant feeder bottle, later given the nickname “Murder Bottle”. This name comes from the design of the bottle, which was difficult to clean, resulting in a build-up of bacteria that was only made worse by household guru Mrs Beeton recommending they were only cleaned every two to three weeks. Funnily enough, the bottles stopped being popular near the end of the 19th century when the medical community condemned them. Image: C. Watson. 

Infant bottle feeders aside, most of the artefacts relating to children that we find in Christchurch can be divided into three categories: play, education, and foodways, with some overlapping between categories. But before we have a look at these, I first want to delve into what we specifically mean by childhood. On one hand, childhood is simply that fun period of your life with no responsibilities before you have to work, pay bills and worry about the inevitable collapse of society as a result of climate change – i.e. a developmental stage on the way to being an adult. On the other hand, childhood is a social construct, and different societies differentiate the differences between childhood and adulthood in different ways, and at different ages (this video here gives a quick summary of childhood as a social construct, but if you really love theory then check out this thesis here, which takes a very detailed look at the theory of childhood). Childhood itself is influenced by many factors, (the child’s biology, the environment they grow up in, the education they receive), with the overall view that these factors influence the type of adult they will become. In this way, the child can be seen as either a passive receptor (being influenced by the factors that contribute to their childhood), or an active agent, engaging in and influencing their childhood (Vlahos 2014).

One of the key aspects of childhood is play. Play is a culturally universal phenomenon, observed across all societies as a significant and distinctive activity (Vlahos 2014: 260). It’s also what we see most frequently in the archaeological record in Christchurch, when we’re looking at the archaeological evidence for the presence of children.

Dolls are probably the most common artefact relating to children that we find on archaeological sites here in Christchurch. This is probably related to the fact that most of the dolls we find in Christchurch are made from ceramic, which tends to preserve well. We generally find two types of dolls. The first are jointed dolls. These had a cloth body to which a porcelain head, arms and legs were attached, with the limbs and heads surviving. The second are Frozen Charlotte Dolls. These were small naked figurines, inspired by ballad Fair Charlotte which described the story of a young girl who froze to death in a sleigh on her way to a ball. Most of the dolls shown here are Frozen Charlottes or jointed doll parts, although there are two more decorative figurines. Also pictured down the bottom is my personal favourite, a jointed doll’s head with inlaid teeth. Image: C. Watson.

Also relatively common are marbles. We find a great variety of marbles, ranging from cheap clay “commies” to glazed bennington marbles to glass marbles with various swirls and patterns. Image: C. Watson.

The artefacts that inspired this blog post: miniatures. Most of these artefacts come from one assemblage, which was quite unique for both the quantity and variety of miniature vessels it contained. Prior to this I had never found a miniature ladle before! Image: C. Watson.

These artefacts tell us much more than just that there were children present at the sites – they tell us about childhood in the 19th century. All of these toys were likely made by adults, and probably chosen by adults for the respective children. As such, childhood is often heavily influenced by the adults surrounding a child.  Many of the toys were likely intended to be played with in a manner that would prepare the children for adulthood. Dolls and miniature tea and dinner sets would prepare girls for their future role as mothers and homemakers, and let them mimic activities that they saw their own mothers doing. Whilst there were a variety of different games to be played with marbles, most of them had the main objective of obtaining all the marbles. The intricacies of marble trading, with some worth more than others, prepared children for the capitalist society they were entering (Vlahos 2014).

The education factor of childhood is more explicit in other artefacts, often those also associated with food, such as plates and cans intended for use by children. And of course we also find artefacts specifically associated with education itself, such as writing slate and slate pencils.

Cans and plates intended for use by children were often printed with educational designs (along with other fun patterns). These could be an alphabet printed as part of the pattern, encouraging the child to learn to read. Or they could have a morality theme. The can on the bottom right depicts two men gardening, with a sailboat shown in the background. The pattern refers back to one of Dr Benjamin Franklin’s maxims, specifically his maxim “industry needs not wish, and he that lives upon hope will die fasting, there are no gains without pains, then help hands for I have no lands”. The illustration was taken from 24 scenes of town and country life illustrating Franklin’s “lessons for the young and the old, on industry, temperance, frugality &c” by Robert Drighton, published by Bowles and Carver, London in 1795 (Riley 1991: 270). These illustrations and maxims were probably familiar to children in the 19th century, and vessels decorated with them were intended to help with children’s moral education. Image: C. Watson.

And, of course, we find artefacts associated with education itself. The Victorian child’s schooling was slightly different to that of modern children- slate tablets rather than iPads! Also different was the inclusion of things beyond the three Rs, skills like needlework and woodwork were also taught to prepare children for adulthood. Image: C. Watson

How well the perception of childhood based on the archaeological record matches reality is something we can’t really tell from the archaeological record alone. If we view children simply as passive actors, then we can assume that if a girl was given a doll, then she played with it as if it was her own child, as was intended by the adult who gave it to her, and then she grew up to be a good mother. But if we view children as complex individuals and active agents, then the girl may have played with it as if it was her own child one day, but on another day sacrificed it in a witch’s spell make believe game, or given it to her brother to play with, or used it in any other type of play other than what was intended. Intended function versus actual function is a bugbear of archaeology – is the ceramic cup we found actually part of a tea set, or is it from the flour bin where it was used as a scoop? And, of course, while we’re talking about bugbears of archaeology, I can’t really assume that the toys we’ve found mean that there were children at the site (Mills 2010). They could represent mementos collected by adults to remind them of their own childhood. In the case of children, I think it’s safe to assume that whilst children may have played with toys as intended, they also likely used them imaginatively and played all sorts of games with them.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back and ask any of the children from my sites how they played with their toys. But what I can say is that play was likely an important part of childhood in 19th century Christchurch. A quick survey of the assemblages I’ve analysed over the past couple of years revealed that just over half of them contained artefacts relating to children, and that those which didn’t were generally small assemblages (2-20 artefacts) from sites that only had minimal excavation, indicating that artefacts relating to children are relatively common finds. Reading 19th century newspapers and manuals on the management of children (which didn’t make it into this blog after it somehow took a very theoretical turn) also frequently refer to play, and clearly indicate that it was an important part of childhood (Barrett 1883; Royal College of Physicians London 1889). And so my view that the 19th century was not a good time to be a child has changed. I have revised it to that the 19th century was an okay time to be a child, provided that you survived and weren’t employed as a chimney sweep.

I went into researching for this blog with the preconceived notion that I was going to be astounded by Victorian parenting advice. Instead, I found that most of what I read was relatively relatable. I thought this piece of advice on how to keep children occupied was a nice way to end the blog- I certainly remember whining to my mum as a child that I was bored and that there was nothing to do, but being all too happy to go off and play if I was made to bring the firewood in. Image: Daily Telegraph 04/04/1891: 2.   

Clara Watson

References

Barrett, H. 1883. The management of infancy and childhood, in health and disease. G. Routledge, London. Available: https://archive.org/details/b21931574

Riley, N. 1991. Gifts for Good Children: the history of children’s china, 1790-1890. Richard Dennis, Somerset.

Royal College of Physicians of London. 1889. Suggestions to mothers on the management of their children. Churchill, London. Available: https://archive.org/details/b2398434x

Mills, R. 2010. Miniatures in historical archaeology: Toys, trifles and trinkets re-examined. Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Leicester, School of Archaeology and Ancient History. Available: http://www.firesofprometheus.org/dissertation_1.pdf

Vlahos, M. 2014. Developing an Archaeology of Childhood Experiences in Australia 1788-1901. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Queensland, School of Social Science. Available: https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:344451

All Sherds are Equal

Modern archaeology, in New Zealand at least, is a democratic science. By this, I mean that as archaeologists we investigate and record ALL deposits, features, and artefacts we come across on sites. We don’t cherry pick our sites to only excavate those that represent the wealthy and elite of society (looking at you classical archaeologists *cough* Heinrich Schliemann *cough*). Instead, in Christchurch, we excavate sites where the working classes lived, along with those from the middle and upper classes.

This means we don’t privilege any people of the past, or at least not when we’re looking at artefacts (buildings are sometimes a different story). The archaeological deposits we find that relate to a butcher and his family who lived in a small four room cottage are equally as important as those we find that relate to an ex-mayor who lived in a large house. I personally think that this is important, as whilst we typically view our sites in an archaeological and academic context representing the history of New Zealand and Christchurch (and discuss them as such), they can also hold a personal connection for any descendants wanting to learn more about their ancestor’s lives (hot tip for anyone doing family research, archaeological reports are now available online from Heritage New Zealand if you know where an ancestor was living and want to see if any archaeology has been done at the site).

It also means we are able to do comparative research. How can we say (using the archaeological record) that a person was wealthy and that this is demonstrated in what they have thrown away, if we don’t have deposits from working-class sites to compare with? How can we know what items were typical for a period if we don’t have a representative sample from across society? From this viewpoint, everything is important. The rubbish pit containing unusual complete and near-complete vessels from a household clean-out event has as much information potential as the small pit with a few broken fragments of common items. Both can provide specific information on the occupants of the site and how they lived their lives, as well as being used to look more broadly at life in Christchurch through comparative studies.

This has been a very long introduction to basically say that today’s blog is show-casing some of the artefacts we’ve found over recent months. But unlike previous blogs, where we normally focus on complete or unusual objects, today I’m going to be sharing the small, broken fragments that we don’t normally talk that much about, because they’re just as important as the unusual artefacts.

Ooooh yeah, Asiatic Pheasants. We couldn’t do a blog talking about ceramic sherds and not include the Asiatic Pheasants pattern. We find this pattern on almost every archaeological site in Christchurch. It doesn’t matter who you were, what you did for a living, how much money you had, if you lived in Christchurch from the 1860s onwards then you probably owned Asiatic Pheasants patterned vessels. One of the best things about the pattern being so common is that it also doesn’t matter how small the fragment is, we can almost always identify the pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

Fragments can also be frustrating though, in that you get a tiny glimpse into the pattern but it’s too small to work out what’s going on. Take this flow blue pattern for example. The figure in the centre of the sherd is clear. But is she facing another figure who’s much larger than her? Does that mean the central figure is a child and the larger figure is her mother? And why does the central figure not have legs? Is she a ghost? Has she come back to haunt the figure on the right? Have I been watching too many horror moves? So many questions, but unfortunately with such a small sherd we’ll probably never know what the pattern was. Image: C. Watson

 

Sometimes a fragment will have distinguishing elements (like a lot of the patterns pictured below), meaning that there’s something to start with when trying to identify the pattern. Others, like this one, I generally won’t even bother searching for. There were literally thousands of different patterns made by the Staffordshire potteries that had floral elements, meaning that unless you’re super familiar with a pattern (like Asiatic Pheasants), it’s near-impossible to identify a sherd that just has the edges of a flower on it. Image: C. Watson.

 

I think this sherd is made 100% better by the fact that the horse and rider are missing their heads *insert headless horseman pun here*. Image: C. Watson.

 

When it comes to random patterns on sherds then this is definitely the best. My favourite part is the smoking pipe the figure on the right is holding- that’s one long pipe stem. We weren’t able to identify the pattern, but I imagine that it’s probably based on an 18th or early 19th print that was adapted into a ceramic pattern by a Staffordshire pottery. Image: C. Watson.

 

Houses, but miniature, so they’re better. This is likely from the background of a romantic pattern. Image: C. Watson.

 

It’s very satisfying when you’re able to identify a pattern from only a small sherd. This plate is decorated with the Royal Exchange pattern and the central scene (which was missing) shows the third Royal Exchange building, opened in 1844 (Coysh and Henrywood 1982: 311). Image: C. Watson.

 

And what is perhaps even more satisfying than identifying the pattern from a small fragment, is identifying the manufacturer. All my time spent lurking in pottery groups on Facebook is paying off because when I saw these sherds my gut instinct was that this was Mason’s Ironstone with Imari pattern. A google search revealed a near-identical dinner set, with details like the small spines on the gilt spirals and slightly uneven painting of the flowers exactly the same as the fragments we found. The best part though was that the dinner set had the Mason’s Patent Ironstone China mark, making me pretty confident that my gut instinct was correct. Image: C. Watson.

 

And to end the blog, a scene from where we would all rather be: at home, lounging on the couch, patting a dog. Image: C. Watson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clara Watson

References

Coysh, A. W. and Henrywood, R. K., 1982. The Dictionary of Blue and White Printed Pottery 17801880, Volume I. Antique Collectors’ Club, Suffolk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Archaeology: Expectations Versus Reality

I thought we could do with a bit of light-hearted reflection this week, so this blog post is going to be about stepping into archaeology: expectations versus reality of working in the field of commercial archaeology.

For many of us, archaeology has been a field of fascination since we were very young. There is nothing more exciting than reading about the discovery of a lost city, nothing more mysterious than the lives of people who haven’t been around for thousands of years. What did they do? What did their homes look like? Did they also have to complete homework assignments, and did they too try to cheat off their friends’ work? These questions drove me as a child. There were endless archaeological sites across the world to occupy my mind – Petra in Jordan, Pompeii and Herculaneum, Troy, Machu Picchu, Skara Brae. These came to me as enormous storyboards with sporadic puzzle pieces that one could fit together as many times and in as many different ways as they wanted to. Any blanks in this colourful canvas were filled in by equally colourful depictions of archaeology in the media (often involving aliens, treasure hunting, and the destruction of an astonishing number of fictional archaeological sites). We’ve all seen them – Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Mummy versus Tom Cruise (actually, I haven’t seen that one). There is even a found-footage “horror-adventure” movie based around a team of archaeologists in Egypt (Cloverfield 36: this time it’s personal) which I’m sure is great. Movie night, anyone? And of course, who could forget the TV show Time Team, probably the most accurate depiction of (presumably well-funded) archaeological research digs. But it didn’t stop there, in fact it didn’t even start there. My earliest introduction to archaeology and a fascination with lost cities began with video games.

Cluefinders 3rd Grade: The Mystery of Mathra” which taught me nothing about ancient civilisations but plenty about maths and English in the setting of a lost civilisation. They must have all been math whizzes if they needed that many fractions to unlock their doors. Image: Cluefinders Fandom. 

In fact, a worldwide fascination with lost civilisations meant that there was an abundance of games set in ancient abandoned cities – and yet not one of them let me excavate or analyse any of the data. Very disappointing. More modern games about ‘archaeology’ and lost civilisations (for me, personally, Uncharted and Tomb Raider) follow the popular adventure archaeologist/treasure hunter narrative that we have seen in so many Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve helped Nathan Drake and Lara Croft save the world – who knew the past could be so dangerous! Who knew there were so many dastardly organisations out there trying to destroy the world- oh, wait, never mind.

A fairly typical day for an archaeologist; Lara Croft gets ready for a long day on site – essential tools only. Image: pcgamer.com. 


Figure 3. Extreme buildings archaeology: Nathan Drake and his associates plan out the best way to properly record these suspiciously well preserved 17th century wooden buildings in the thick of the jungle on a fictional island near Madagascar. The precarious nature of these types of buildings means you have to be well prepared; a quick glance at this picture shows some serious safety breaches. Where are their hardhats and high vis?! Image: reddit

The next step was an obvious one, it was time to accrue tens of thousands of dollars of debt and get my own consulting company. I’m joking – I just went to university.

Ain’t that the truth… Image: memedriod. 

It was here I began to get a more grounded idea of what archaeology was really like, and the sorts of things looked at by modern archaeologists. Most importantly I learned what archaeology could tell us about the history of our own Aotearoa, early Polynesian settlement of the islands, and of Māori history. Every day I learnt something that I didn’t know I didn’t know, and expanded or completely turned the tables on things I thought I did know. I learnt that the difficulty of your multichoice and essay questions relied entirely on who your lecturer was, and that the best way to get amongst other archaeologists and archaeology students was to join them for drinks at the pub. It must be said, however, that university did very little to prepare me for actually working as an archaeologist, although we did have at least one lecture concerning the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 (or so I’ve been told.

The key difference between working in commercial archaeology and my university education, is that we were essentially trained by research archaeologists to become research archaeologists. By this of course, I mean neat 1×1 m excavation squares with string lines, careful stratigraphic drawings and excavating down in 50 mm spits, recording the scene thoroughly at each level, and in some cases, thoroughly and systematically GPS’ing the precise location of every single artefact. On my field school, which took place at a Māori silcrete quarry site, this was a tremendous undertaking, although there is something to be said about how satisfying that level of intensive recording can be. Of course, there are many significant situations in which this approach is still important and used, although these can essentially be narrowed down to ‘well-funded research archaeology digs.’ Some of the most useful techniques our field school taught us was to never get separated from your lunch (trust me on this one), to take plentiful, clear and detailed notes, to write clear information on all bags, and how to survive on 3-6 hours of sleep.

Here you can observe an archaeologist in their natural setting, a green field where they doubtless have been encamped for the night. When observed awake at this time of the evening, an archaeologist can often be found inebriated, and preparing for an early start to the next day. Image: picuki. 

Overall, going to university with the aim of working in commercial archaeology gets a solid A+ for providing a crucial and truly indispensable understanding of New Zealand history and the sort of archaeology you might encounter, but honestly a B- from a practical perspective. Nevertheless, my time at university did give me a number of expectations for what working in this field would end up being like. These can be organised into three broad categories; work outfits, travelling for work, and fieldwork.

Work Outfits

Expectation: The classic archaeology look is professional and a little bit hardcore. Dressed in shades of tan brown or green, usually with a cowboy hat or hardhat (which either way looks like it came straight out of Indiana Jones or The Mummy), the archaeologist looks like they are ready to simultaneously traipse through a desert, a jungle, or navigate a complicated cave system. The archaeologist will have a glowing and even tan. The archaeologists tool kit includes a small water bottle, several types of trowel, detail brushes, and measuring tapes.

Runescape provides a clear outline for a successful archaeological work outfit. You might have noticed the medals adorning his right shoulder – it is important for all who encounter an archaeologist to know their achievements at a glance. I’m personally still working out how to fit my degree onto a badge, but when I do it’s over for you bitches. Image: artstation. 

Reality: You are covered in dirt and mud. Even if you haven’t lifted a finger you are still covered in a fine layer of dust and dirt. Your eyebrows are seemingly permanently four shades darker and are four times more sand than hair. When you have to reapply sunblock, you spread the dirt more evenly across your face; you might not have an even tan (or a tan at all) but at least no one else can tell. In winter this is a lost cause. You are dirty. Everyone is dirty. The tan or green coloured pants are just designed to blend in with the dirt. You are one with the soil. Your work boots are your most valuable asset – they are the most comfortable shoes you own, and they make you feel powerful. You are powerful dirt. You wear high vis at all times; you must be careful with this as wearing high vis for extended periods of time may result in psychological difficulty wearing normal clothes at other times. You have at least two different high vis vests and at least two different high vis coats. You own a pair of wet-weather pants but never think to put them on before going out into wet weather. You own four pairs of safety glasses and all of them have scratches in the middle of the lenses which make it impossible to see, either into the trench or at the ground in front of your own two feet.

Dirty archaeologists: The Dangers of Sieving. Directed and produced by Archaeologists Inc. Image: R. Adam.

We questioned some local archaeologists on the scene. Despite the conditions, one archaeologist when asked said “I’ve never felt more alive.” Back to you in the studio Glenn. Image: Underground Overground Archaeology.

Travelling for Work:

Expectation: An archaeologist travels as part of a small herd. Good companionship is plentiful, alongside campfires, suspiciously well-equipped tents, and a good supply of food and alcohol.

Reality: You live out of a suitcase; this is more annoying than you had anticipated. You always forget at least one vital item. Friendship is tested continuously while you attempt to team-draw a strat; no one can decide what should and shouldn’t be included as a layer, tensions are high.

Fieldwork:

Expectation: An archaeologist is built for fieldwork, and nothing gives them more joy. This involves painstakingly careful 1×1 m square excavations and carefully brushing down artefacts with small brushes. Often situated in a cave for maximum drama. An archaeologists field book is full of detailed notes, maps, and drawings, deciphering of puzzles, clues from earlier in the cave which may later help them open the secret door at the other end of the cave system once they have defeated the forty gun-toting bad guys who somehow made it into the cave first. An archaeologist has impressive arm strength and somehow becomes fitter just by product of being an archaeologist. Always finishes early on a Friday.

Reality: Your field book is full of scribbled notes and maps that you are SURE are oriented north (surely?!), and that word definitely says uh… dandy gnome… no wait-that doesn’t make sense. It’s not exactly puzzle-solving, but interpreting this stratigraphy definitely comes close, and re-interpreting the stratigraphy from the notes in your field book can definitely be classed as puzzle solving. You often helpfully take photos of things but without any notes or follow-up context photos. This is inevitably not as helpful as you thought it would be.

Ancient symbols recovered from an archaeologist’s field notebook. Some interpretation is required. This does not count as useful contextual information. Image: R. Adam. 

You definitely get to brush down artefacts with small brushes sometimes, but you are very rarely working in a cave. There’s also a lot of sand, honestly there is so much bloody sand. You introduce yourself to contractors as ‘your archaeologist for the day’ in order to ‘keep it fresh’ because you are ‘fun’ and ‘cool.’ You spend most of your time watching diggers and then feeling important when you try to make them stop (and then you feel like a school teacher when they don’t see you waving your hand and you have to tap the bucket with your scale stick). A truly shocking amount of time is spent waiting on construction sites thinking about your life choices. You arrived on site when they said they would be digging. Every 20 minutes they say they will definitely dig very soon. You have been waiting for four hours now. Your field method includes confusing diagrams in your notebook with extremely disproportionate and not-to-scale maps of the area of works and where your archaeological feature was encountered.

Gandalf learns first-hand the perils of a poorly labelled site map. The greater the time between recording features and writing the report, the greater your confusion when revisiting notes and photos. Good luck Gandalf, I don’t know which way is north either. Image: Reddit. 

Exercise is inconsistent – most of the time you simply stand and watch the digger, occasionally crouching to take a photo or investigate something. When you do have to excavate a feature, it is likely the most digging you’ve done for months. Because of this excavating makes your arms, legs, and butt sore for days. Cursed Fridays; never respond to a callout after 2 pm on a Friday unless you are fully prepared to be on site until at least 6 pm.

The phone rings. It’s 2pm on a Friday. They say they’re just digging a small section. They say it’s only going to take an hour. They’re lying. Image: TrollArchaeology

At the end of the day I think it is fair to say that we are all glad not to be cursed or to be fighting mummies in Egypt, and that it’s probably for the best that we don’t have to carry around guns and fight people (most of the time). I think we’d all rather be carefully brushing artefacts down or watching diggers carefully scraping away clean soil rather than running from suspiciously circular boulders, and most of the time we get to go home at the end of the day, which is definitely preferable to being trapped in a tomb or underground cavern.

It might not be as glamourous or dangerous as the movies and games make it out to be, or as finely tuned as we were taught at university, but recording and preserving the history of New Zealand (or whichever country you are working in, like Canada?? Hi Canada!) is an important and rewarding job. To bring this blog full circle, I am happy to be contributing to the great storyboard of New Zealand history, providing puzzle pieces and filling in blanks where we can. To this day I am still learning things I never knew I never knew, and no matter how long or dirty the day, that’s what makes it worth it.

Rebecca Adam

The Colleen Bawn

The girl I love is beautiful, she’s fairer than the Dawn; She lives in Garryowen, and she’s called the Colleen Bawn

The above quote is taken from Dion Boucicault’s 1860 play, The Colleen Bawn. The play is based on an 1829 novel, The Collegians, written by Gerald Griffin, which itself is based on the 1819 murder of Ellen Hanley. You might be wondering what stories of a murder that took place over 200 years ago have to do with Christchurch archaeology. Well, dear reader, I was wondering the same.

We recently excavated a clay pipe with the name “COLLEEN BAWN” stamped on the stem. The mark was one I had never seen before, and the pipe was incomplete meaning I did not know if there were any other markings on the bowl. I began my research on the pipe by sharing it in the Society for Clay Pipe Research group, which was my first introduction to the story of Colleen Bawn. As an avid true crime podcast listener, I was rather excited (if that is not too morbid to admit) that the pipe we found could have a connection to a 200-year-old true crime case.

The pipe stem in question. The COLLEEN BAWN marks, located on either side of the stem, are shown below the pipe. Image: C. Watson.

Let us travel back to Autumn 1819, to Kilrush, Ireland, where the remains of Ellen Hanley had just washed ashore. Only 15 years old, Ellen Hanley was well known for being both beautiful and kind, and was given the moniker Colleen Bawn. The name comes from the Irish cailín bán, meaning white girl or pure/innocent girl. Ellen was raised by her uncle, a farmer in County Limerick, after her mother died when she was young.

In the months prior to her murder, Ellen became acquainted with John Scanlan. John, in his early 20s, was a member of the local minor aristocracy, a former Royal Marine, and a heavy gambler. John began to visit Ellen in secret, eventually persuading her to marry him. The two eloped in early July 1819, marrying in secret as John feared his family would not approve of the marriage. The marriage was short and unhappy. A young protestant clergyman met Ellen on a passenger boat, and she confided in him that she regretted leaving her uncle’s farm and that her new husband had spent her dowry on alcohol and gambling. John Scanlan also regretted the marriage, quickly tiring of his new bride and the secrecy of the marriage. He enlisted the help of his servant, Stephen Sullivan, and together they planned her murder.

On July 14th Scanlan and Sullivan took Ellen for a trip in Scanlan’s boat. In the middle of the river Sullivan shot Ellen with a musket. He then stripped her of her clothes, weighed down her body by tying it to rocks, and threw her into the river. Ellen’s disappearance was noticed several weeks later when Maura Sullivan, Stephen Sullivan’s sister, was seen wearing Ellen’s clothes. Six weeks after the murder Ellen’s body washed up at Moneypoint. While the body was too decomposed to identify, the rope tying the body to the rocks was identified as having been lent to John Scanlan. Scanlan and Sullivan quickly disappeared, and police soon determined that the body was the missing Ellen, and that Scanlan and Sullivan were the murderers. Scanlan was found hiding at his parent’s property and was put to trial in March 1820. Despite being defended by the famous lawyer, Daniel O’Connell, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Scanlan hung on March 16th 1820, with Sullivan caught, tried and hung shortly after.

A memorial to Ellen Hanley is located at the graveyard in Killimer. Image: Irish Waterways History.

Despite being a true story, the fate of Ellen Hanley has all the makings of an excellent narrative: a secret romance, an innocent girl who had a tragic fate, and an evil villain who was punished for his crime. That may be what made the play, The Colleen Bawn, which was based on the murder, so popular in New Zealand and around the world. Newspaper advertisements show that the play was performed regularly in Christchurch from 1864 into the early 20th century.

An 1864 advertisement for the Colleen Bawn play being performed in Christchurch. Image: Press 27/04/1864: 1.

So, what is a name referencing a murdered Irish girl doing on a clay pipe in 1890s Lyttelton? To understand this, it is first important to understand that clay pipes had uses other than just as a vessel for smoking. The clay pipe has its origins in the 16th century, following the introduction of tobacco from the Americas. As tobacco decreased in price, its popularity increased and along with it the number of pipe manufacturers. Pipes were mass manufactured using moulds, meaning the bowls could be easily decorated in elaborate styles and the stems could be stamped with marks (I highly recommend watching this video to see a demonstration of how pipes were made). As a result, decoration and marks on pipes could be used as advertisements, symbols of political events/movements, groups, or current events, as well as just decoration for its own sake.

One of the most common examples of a clay pipe with multiple uses that we find in Christchurch are Heywood pipes. Joseph Heywood ran a business as a commission agent, among other things, from 1851 in Lyttelton. Heywood commissioned clay pipes bearing his name from English pipe manufacturer Charles Crop and we’ve found them on multiple sites in Christchurch dating from the 1860s to the 1880s. Heywood appears to have used the pipes to advertise his business (the 19th century equivalent of businesses buying pens that have their name on them) and was not the only company in Christchurch to do so. We’ve also found pipes from the businesses Trent Brothers and Twentyman and Cousin (see this blog specifically on advertising pipes for more detail). Image: C. Watson.

Keeping with the Irish theme, this pipe is an Inniskilling pipe. It depicts Derry castle with a border of clover leaves and a crown above it. Below the castle is a banner with THE INNISKILLING stamped on it and beneath this a sphynx with a second banner reading EGYPT. The Inniskilling refers to an Irish regiment of the British army that began as a local militia raised in 1689 to fight against James II. The regiment became part of the British army and was sent to several battles both in Britain and overseas. Inniskilling pipes were made by several pipe manufacturers between approximately 1880 and 1920. In the case of this one, the pipe is commemorating the Inniskilling’s time in Egypt, and can be seen as an example of contemporary political events being used as pipe decoration. Image: C. Watson.

Our Colleen Bawn pipe may function as both an advertisement and a kind of pop culture reference for the time. When I began researching the pipe, I wanted to know what the phrase ‘Colleen Bawn’ would mean to a person living in 19th century New Zealand. Would they instantly recognise it as a reference to the murdered Ellen? Or could it be a reference to something else. The easiest way to find this out was by using Papers Past, an online database containing thousands of New Zealand newspapers. Searching the name ‘Colleen Bawn’ resulted in 9,912 hits, indicating that even if I had never heard the phrase Colleen Bawn, people in the 19th century were familiar with it. The earliest reference was to a ‘Colleen Bawn’ clothing item, which was a type of cloak worn by Irish farm girls. From the limited information I’ve been able to find so far, I think the cloak was probably red, similar to a Little Red Riding Hood cloak, and that the name is a reference to the Colleen Bawn play, although I haven’t been able to find anything that specifically proved that. Colleen Bawn cloaks only appeared in 1860s-1870s advertisements, indicating either they dropped out of fashion or the style was no longer referred to as a Colleen Bawn.

The earliest newspaper reference I could find to ‘Colleen Bawn’. Image: Press 9/11/1861: 7.

Other newspaper advertisements referred to a ship called the Colleen Bawn that was operating in New Zealand in the 1860s and 1870s. But aside from that, the vast majority of newspaper references were to the Colleen Bawn play.

Dion Boucicault, author of the play, even visited New Zealand in the 1880s doing a tour of the play in which he played one of the main characters. Image: Lyttelton Times 10/11/1885: 1.

Given our pipe was found in an 1890s context (by which time almost all newspaper references were in relation to the play), and that clay pipes generally only had a short use-life, it seems very likely that our pipe is referencing the Colleen Bawn play. It’s not clear if the pipes were ordered to advertise the play (similar to the Heywood pipes), or if they were a current event reference (like the Inniskilling pipe, but with more of a pop culture angle). It could be that they were the 19th century equivalent of going to a Taylor Swift concert and coming home with a Taylor Swift t-shirt – an object to advertise that you went to the play and remember the experience. Regardless of why the pipe was made, it tells an amazing story and it is interesting to view the clay pipe as both an artefact of late-19th century pop culture in New Zealand, and a reference to a young girl’s tragic fate.

Clara Watson

Further Reading and Information

There are many stories online about the murder of Ellen Hanley. These accounts are all broadly similar, with a few variations to the story. I’ve based mine on accounts from Irish Waterways HistoryIrishCentral, The Irish Times and Clare County Library.

-If you’re interested in reading Gerald Griffin’s book, The Collegians, that was based on the murder, then it is available online on Google Books.

-If you’re interested in reading the play, then the script is available on Project Gutenberg.

-There was also a 1911 silent film based on the play. This is available online on YouTube.

At the time of writing this blog, I haven’t been able to find another example of a Colleen Bawn clay pipe. If there is anyone out there who has one or has seen one then please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you.