I am an archaeologist

I am an archaeologist. I’m not interested in dinosaurs. Or rocks. I don’t look for gold. And I’m no more interested in the pyramids than most people.

But I’m fascinated by people, and our past, and the lives of those who went before us, especially here in Christchurch. I want to know how people have dealt with the area we know as Christchurch since Māori first arrived. I want to know what people ate, how they set their table, the medicines they took, the alcohol they drank, how they furnished their houses, what sort of houses they lived in. And more than that, I want to know how Christchurch’s 19th century settlers viewed their world. What did they make of this place they’d come to? How did they deal with the challenges it provided, and a life so far from all that was familiar and comfortable? How did Māori deal with these new settlers from so far away, who brought so much that was new and different with them? And how did these decisions build the city we live in today?


Black beer bottles. Although they may have originally contained beer it is likely that the bottles were reused for other liquids. Photo: K. Webb.

I’m an historical archaeologist. That means that as well as looking at the physical remains of an archaeological site – such as buildings, garden features, rubbish pits, artefacts and the vast array of other material that might be found on an archaeological site – I use documents to help me understand these sites. So I look at photographs, maps, plans, old newspapers, diaries, letters, account books, etc. But so often, these documents don’t tell me what people were eating for dinner or how they treated their cold. Or, they might lie, or embellish, or miss out details that seem ordinary or boring. For me, archaeology’s power is its ability to reveal those ordinary, everyday details, because by pulling together those details, we can learn so much more about our past, and about who we are today.


Transfer printed porcelain bowl made by the Staffordshire pottery firm W. T. Copeland in the 1850s. Photo: K. Webb.

To me, the artefacts we find provide us with a direct connection to the people who made Christchurch. I can hold the fragments of a china bowl in my hand that was someone’s treasured possession, brought with them all the way from England. And when I hold that bowl, it makes me stop and think about how brave they were to start a new life in a new settlement, knowing that they might never see the rest of their family again. And that whenever they used that bowl, they thought of their family back home, of all they had left behind, and all that they had gained since arriving in Christchurch.

I’ve worked in Christchurch as an archaeologist since 2000. Since the earthquakes of 2011, the volume of archaeological work in the city has increased dramatically. This blog is a long-held dream of mine, a way to share our discoveries and to show you the power and importance of archaeology. So, take a look around, sign up to get our news feeds, follow our Facebook page and join us as we discover more about this Christchurch of ours!

Katharine Watson


Archaeologist Katharine Watson with Paul Thomas discussing the remains of the power house in Reefton. Photo: K. Burnett.