2020: what a dumpster fire of a year

This is the third end of year blog post that I (Clara) have written, and just as I started writing it one of our interns dropped her lunch all over the floor as she was putting it in the microwave: if that’s not a metaphor for 2020, then I don’t know what is… This year I’ve decided to divide our final blog post for the year into four parts.

A distant golden past

January and February feel like a lifetime ago. We farewelled our 2019/2020 interns Bex and Christy and welcomed our new archaeologist, Jon, from the UK. We excavated sites, analysed artefacts and I wrote about bottle use on the blog.

Jon from the UK. The first photo I took of him was holding a chamber pot- there’s definitely a joke about 2020 in there somewhere…

Jamie taught Rebecca how to record buildings.

We excavated a site that contained several rubbish pits chock full of medicinal bottles. We later worked out that a pharmacist was living on the site in the early 20th century, and that the pits were likely commercial dumps from his business.

I think Angel is cracking Michael’s back in this photo (but really who knows what’s going on here).

Michael had a chicken show up on his site. Kirsa questioned whether or not a chicken showing up on site was a highlight of 2020, but we decided that it definitely was.

As was the mummified rat that Jamie found, which now lives on top of the bookshelf.

Overall, this year has been a pretty good one for artefacts, but everything I analysed during the first couple of months of the year was pretty standard.

It’s the Coronaaaavirus

We started the week of the 23rd of March trialling working from home and by the Wednesday we were in Level 4. Some of us loved working from home (mostly those with pets), others missed the malaise of the office. We all learnt to use zoom and to organise our workday around the 1pm Ashley Bloomfield Show. Luckily for us, for every hour we spend in the field there’s several spent in the office drawing up plans, writing up reports and analysing finds, so most of us were able to work right through.

Did you really work from home if you didn’t attend at least one zoom meeting?

NZ Archaeology Week was held during lockdown. As part of our online events, we posted daily colouring in photos of artefacts. Kurt Bennett came up with this great masterpiece.

I got creative in how to maximise productivity when working in a confined space (while trying not to ruin the landlord’s carpets).

And Angel discovered evidence of aliens* while working on an essential project during Level 4.
*not actually evidence of aliens- we think these rings are from potato clamps.*

There were some cool artefacts analysed during this period. Most interesting was a site occupied from the 1850s that contained ceramics made between the 1840s and 1860s. It’s not often that we get features dating to the start of Christchurch’s (European) settlement. Within that site, the Fox and The Lion pattern based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name was a highlight (top left). Other cool artefacts included a slate tablet with writing still legible (bottom left), a pipe section with finger impressions of the person who made it (bottom right), a Vanes Patent bottle (interesting because I hadn’t come across that patent before; top centre right) and a 1902 coronation medal (top centre left).

Post-lockdown world

Between the 27th of April, when we moved down to Level 3, and the 8th of June, when we went down to Level 1, we packed up our home offices and moved back to the office in drips and drabs. Fieldwork resumed and we headed back out to site armed with facemasks and the contact tracing app. Over the following few months life went back to being relatively normal. During this time we farewelled Jon from the UK, who moved back home after 2020 turned out not to be the year to shift to the other side of the world.

Tristan showing off his post-lockdown baking body.

Wendy wasn’t thrilled about Michael’s new hobby being brought into the office.

Megan got to break the bubble and do some scenic fieldwork.

We learnt about asbestos.

Earthworks finally got underway at the Cathedral site. Kirsa monitored the work from the safety of a purpose-built cage.

Angel found this gorgeous Sicilian patterned ewer (and was definitely thrilled about it).

It was during this time that I analysed my favourite site of 2020. The site had many complete or nearly complete artefacts and lots of children’s artefacts. Highlights within the assemblage included a kyusu, a plate made for the American export market and this classical shaped glass vase.

And while we’re talking about artefacts, this clay pipe stem would have to be my top artefact of 2020. It might not look like much, but there’s an amazing story behind it and if you haven’t read our blog on it, then I highly recommend that you do (link here).

Holy Smokes It’s Busy

Much as the New Zealand housing market has spiralled out of control these past few months, we’ve also seen our workloads increasing. Projects that were delayed due to lockdown resumed, as well as new ones starting. From around September on it’s been a bit like ships in the night with people passing by the office on their way to and from sites. Even I abandoned artefact analysis and spent much of October and November in the field. This has meant that our social media outreach has dropped off a lot these past few months. Our new years’ resolution for 2021 is to actually stick to our posting schedule… Christchurch Heritage Festival fell during these busy months, and we partnered with The Arts Centre to host an exhibition showcasing artefacts found during the restoration works. The exhibition was a success, with hundreds of people viewing the artefacts on display.

Jamie and Rebecca ended the year the way they started it, recording buildings together.

I kid you not, Angel found a Turkish Bath from the 19th century a few weeks ago. This is probably the coolest feature that we found in 2020 and I promise you that we will definitely do a blog post on it next year.

In other cool finds, Megan found a boiler. Unfortunately, it was a bit too big to fit in an artefact bag…

I found a gully (among other things- if you know, you know). The gully matched the location of one shown in an 1850s map and looked to have been infilled around the 1860s-70s. The site it’s from had an interesting history and we found some cool stuff, so this is another site that I promise we’ll do a full blog post on next year.

Jamie found a time capsule in the form of a pickle jar embedded in the foundation stone of one of her buildings. We enlisted the help of the contractors to get it out.

Our exhibition at The Arts Centre.

We still found time for some office malaise. Here Angel is teaching us how to metal detect.

We welcomed back Bex, who interned with us last summer, and we welcomed Neda, our new intern. Neda was thrilled to be given the job of setting up our unique Christmas tree.

Kirsa decided she was done with 2020 and took a nap in the meeting room.

While we put Annthalina in a box.

The Colleen Bawn pipe was my favourite artefact of 2020, but this chicken waterer is definitely my second favourite!

There’s been some cool finds just the past two weeks- lots of lamps, a military button, a spinning top, tiles with mutant dolphin ship sails and a curry paste jar. Other interesting finds from the latter months of the year have included a creepy dolls head (because creepy doll’s heads are always cool) and wooden skipping rope handles. Again, probably more on these next year!

From everyone here at UnderOver, wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!

Clara Watson