The Second Mayor of Akaroa and his Wife

The Beca Heritage Festival 2019 is currently on in Christchurch. There’s lots of interesting events being held, highlighting both the work being done in the heritage sector in Christchurch and providing opportunities to visit and interact with Christchurch’s heritage (see here for a full list). Last week we held an open office event, giving Christchurch residents an opportunity to check out our lab and listen to us talk about what we actually do as archaeologists working in Christchurch. As part of the open office night, we put on an exhibition telling the stories of three people we have encountered doing archaeology in Christchurch: Ada Wells, Henry and Elizabeth Watkins, and William Cuddon.

We had around 60 people come to our open office night; here they are admiring the artefacts we had out on display. Image: K. Webb.

This fortnight on the blog, we’re going to share one of those stories, that of Henry and Elizabeth Watkins. Henry Green Watkins (b. 1829) and his wife Elizabeth Maria Watkins (b. 1837) arrived in New Zealand in 1857. Following a brief stint at the Thames goldfields and some time spent in Lyttelton, the couple settled in Akaroa where Henry opened a general store. The couple were drawn to Akaroa as Henry’s father, Dr. Daniel Watkins, his mother, Julia Watkins, and his five siblings were already living in the town.

Henry and Elizabeth appear to have had a happy and successful life in Akaroa. In 1871 they moved into what was later known as Holly Cottage, a ten-roomed house with orchard gardens and a stream to the north. They had at least 11 children: Henry William Daniel (b. 1854), Frank (b. 1860), Walter (b. 1862), Amy Florence (b. 1864), Ernest John (b. 1866), Marina Maude (b. 1868), Arthur Evelyn (b. 1870), Albert Nigel (b. 1872), Lillian Rosina (b. 1874, d. 1875), Elizabeth Constance (b. 1876), and Beatrice Lilian (b. 1878).

Henry can be seen sporting an absolutely magnificent beard in the upper left corner. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Along with his shop, located on Beach Road, Henry owned several blocks of land around the peninsula that he either leased or farmed, with the Watkins family well known for their orchards. Henry appears to have been an important figure in the fledgling town of Akaroa. He was elected as Akaroa’s second mayor, in office between 1877 and 1878, and during his term Farr’s bridge was constructed.

Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 21/09/1926.

It was a close race for the 1877 mayoralty, with Henry taking it out by only nine votes. Of course to vote in the 1877 election, you would have had to be male, a British subject, at least 21 years in age, own land worth at least £50 or pay at least £5 to £10 (depending on where you lived) a year in rent, and not be serving a criminal sentence. Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 30/11/1887.

In 1879 Henry passed away, aged 50, leaving Elizabeth to care for their ten surviving children. Elizabeth not only raised her ten children (aged between one and 25 at time of their father’s passing) but continued to run the store and manage the blocks of land owned by the Watkins. Elizabeth was described as being “Of quiet and unobtrusive habits and of excellent business capacity, she had the knack, although in delicate health, of making her way in the world, and leaves behind her an unsullied reputation” (Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertisor 20.07.1894). In 1894, aged 57, Elizabeth passed away, having had a weak chest for several years prior. In her will she left her estate to her sons Henry William Daniel and Ernest John, on the provision that it be sold, and the profits divided amongst all of her children. The sale of the estate revealed she owned 788 acres of land in Akaroa and around Banks Peninsula and Little River, a sizeable sum of land which reflects the success her and her late husband had.

Despite Henry being the mayor of Akaroa, Elizabeth sounds like she was the real hero. Raising ten children, running a shop and managing multiple blocks of land would be hard enough today, let-alone with all the difficulties of 19th century life. Image: Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser 20/07/1894.

In October 2018, Underground Overground Archaeology monitored excavations at the site of Holly Cottage, where Elizabeth and Henry Watkins lived from 1871 until 1894. Unfortunately, Holly Cottage was demolished during the 20th century, and we’re yet to find a photograph of what the cottage looked like. During the excavations a large assemblage of artefacts was found, with over 2,000 artefacts recovered.

Most of these artefacts were found in what was interpreted to be an old creek bed, located just a few metres away from the modern stream. Unlike modern times where household refuse is collected by rubbish trucks, people living in the 19th century had to dispose of their rubbish by their own means. The most common way to do this was for people to dig a pit in their backyard and bury their rubbish.  However, it would appear that the Watkins took advantage of the natural depression created by the old stream and threw their rubbish into the gully. Doing this saved the hassle of digging a pit, and the old creek bed was located far enough away from the cottage that the unpleasant smell of rubbish was unlikely to make its way inside the house.

The old creek bed, identified through the darker soil and the presence of artefacts, can be seen in this photo. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The creek bed extended across most of the rear of the site. Image: A. Trendafilov.

The artefacts excavated from the old creek bed hinted at what the Watkins’ daily lives were like. They included food and beverage bottles, giving some insight into the meals Elizabeth was probably making for her family. The Watkins family appear to have made the most of Akaroa’s seaside location, with nearly 700 shells found, mostly oyster, cockle and pipi, along with kingfish bones. Worcestershire Sauce seems to have been a favourite, with 11 bottles of the sauce recovered. Several pharmaceutical bottles were discovered, many of which were patent medicines that promised to cure any kind of disease. These may have been purchased by Elizabeth in her later years to ease her chest pain. Also present were four bottles of Piesse and Lubin perfume, suggesting it was a favourite of Elizabeth’s.

What was most unusual about the artefact assemblage found in the creek bed, however, was the amount of complete or near-complete objects. These ranged from ceramic plates, platters and tureens to a glass decanter and basket, to two clothes irons and a cooking pot. Finding complete and near-complete items is relatively rare in the archaeological record, and it suggested that the items found in the old creek bed were not just day-to-day household rubbish. Following Elizabeth’s death in 1894, Holly Cottage was leased to Mr Joseph Barwick. It is possible that after her death her sons cleaned out the cottage, throwing away any of her possessions they did not want to keep. This would explain the presence of items such as the clothes irons, which were intended to last a lifetime, and gives us archaeologists a chance to see what the Watkins’ lives were like over 120 years later.

Some of the Watkins’ artefacts out on display. Note the many complete vessels, and the Piesse and Lubin perfume bottles on the left of the top shelf. Image: C. Watson.

More artefacts out on display, these are only a few of the many artefacts we found on site. Note the two clothes irons on the middle right shelf, not the kind of thing people threw out often, which suggests most of the artefacts were disposed of after the Watkins passed. Image: C. Watson.

For anyone wondering what my all-time favourite artefact is, here it is (you can also see it on the middle shelf of the top photo). This glass basket was decorated with a grape pattern and is very fancy. It was possibly used for serving fruit or treats on or may have simply sat on a shelf for decoration. Image: C. Watson.

Clara Watson

Lismore Lodge, Over the Barrel: how the other half lived.

Most of the work I do as a buildings archaeologist focuses on the humble 19th century cottage. These types of buildings, their construction methods and materials have become well trod territory in post-earthquake Christchurch, meaning we now have a fair picture of many of their occupant’s wealth and social standings, and how this changed through time. This story typically features a humble cottage growing up to be an, at least semi-respectable, middle-class villa – perhaps a reasonable aspiration for any house.  Less often does one have the opportunity to explore the houses of the wealthy and elites of Christchurch society in the colonial period.

Recently we were contracted to investigate one such building in Fendalton, a house known as Lismore Lodge, that was notable for its association with the prominent early Christchurch Stoddart family, and then one very interesting Christchurch personality: the broadcaster, philologist, academic, mountaineer and botanist, Professor Arnold Wall CBE.

The front facade of the homestead was well preserved with most original building fabric intact. Image: M. Healey.

The rear of the homestead showing some significant additions from the 20th century. Image: proprietor.

Professor Arnold Wall CBE, looking rather sharp. Image: Alexander Turnbull Library.

Lismore Lodge, a formidable establishment as it might seem, was, architecturally speaking, a restrained affair. It seemed sure of itself, not suffering from an identity crisis like so many late Victorian houses with the ‘battle of the styles’ that raged throughout the 19th century between the gothic and the classical. The fenestration consisted of sash windows on both levels, with the first story having faux shutters attached. Relatively few decorative embellishments adorned the house, although those that were present included fretwork around the veranda, some classical mouldings around the bay window, and brackets attached to the cornice, under the roof’s eaves.

One of the main tasks as a building archaeologist is to understand the phases of a building’s construction, and this is sometimes difficult prior to demolition, especially when much of the framing is concealed. We knew a few things from historical research:

  • The homestead was built within a year and was completed by September 1880.
  • After Mark Stoddart’s death, his wife Anne was no longer living on the property from 1886 and it was leased in 1901 by Arnold Wall, who went on to formally purchase the premises from Stoddart in 1907.
  • As was commonly the case with large dwellings from this period, Lismore Lodge was converted to flats in 1936.

From the outset, slight irregularities in the layout of the building suggested the house had undergone some expansion in the early 20th century. However, unlike less ambitious constructions, large wooden houses can conceal their growth so that later additions are less obvious to identify, as their elements are often materially and stylistically coherent and seamlessly integrated.

With the building’s phasing unclear from the outside, the next recourse a buildings archaeologist has is to look at the floorboards, interior walls and ceilings. Often differences in construction will indicate a house’s growth, but in this case it proved difficult because of the uniform use lath and plaster.

Typical of most of the interior was lath and plaster wall coverings. Image: M. Healey.

The ceiling viewed from the second story after the floorboards had been removed. Image: M. Healey.

What buildings archaeology project is not complete without an obligatory secret door? Image: M. Healey.

It was pretty clear there was a later extension towards the rear of the property based on the smaller sized floorboards that are indicative of 20th century building materials. Image: M. Healey.

This was a surprise that managed to slip under that radar, a previously unrecognized building phase at the north of the house. The extension was probably added during the early 20th century, in the years of Arnold Wall’s ownership, and shows the use of metal fastenings. Image: M. Healey.

Preliminary plan of the building fabric, showing the original extents of the building in purple. Image: M. Healey.

So far, so good, and all this before one has had a chance to look at the foundations to get a clear picture of the building’s development phases. It was at this stage that something rather interesting happened – the barrels!

Concrete barrels used as piles in this room! Image: M. Healey.

Concrete filled barrel discovered with the removal of the floor. Image: M. Healey.

Barrel form after the mould had been discarded. Image: M. Healey.

What begs explanation is why were the barrels only used in a small portion of the original foundation? Box formed foundations can be seen to the left of the image. Image: M. Healey.

Ground Level showing the barrels in purple. Image: M. Healey.

There were nine barrel shaped piles in total, two of which still had their wooden casings intact. Each barrel was approximately 750 mm x 450 mm wide and was used as the foundations for Room 4. It is typical for most 19th century houses in Christchurch to employ stone footings as foundations, with these usually basalt or ‘bluestone’ sourced from Halswell Quarry. Larger 19th century houses will often have concrete foundations or composite concrete with stone piles in the centre, but it is quite unusual to see a concrete barrel employed as a pile in a large house. This is typically only seen in the early 20th century with concrete filled kerosene or paint tins used as piles.

There are two interesting questions about these barrels:

  • Why were they employed in a high-status building, instead of the consistent use of formwork concrete foundation that is seen elsewhere?
  • Where did they come from?

The first question is difficult to answer. We can take it for granted that the form work foundation and the concrete barrels were poured together during the first phase of the building’s development, as evidenced by the same rough aggregate and use of scoria rock as a filler. The barrel is of a fixed height that matches the formwork foundation. Could there have been problems in procuring enough barrels to complete the foundation? Or was this a stop-gap measure to speed up the construction of the foundation? This will warrant some further thought, though I feel the evidence is inconclusive either way.

The second question is more intriguing, though less relevant to the construction of the villa. It was first necessary to work out what kind of cask we have here. The ‘cask system’ was heavily codified by the late 19th century and resembles champagne bottles in their novel nomenclature. At the time of recording, I could remember very few cask types. One was a faint recollection of a Robert Frost poem from an English class called Directive, from which I figured it was just about large enough for a small child to put their head into:

Nor need you mind the serial ordeal.

Of being watched from forty cellar holes,

As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.

And of course, who could forget the famous feats of the beer barrel bombers and their beer runs to supply our boys much need respite during the days of the Normandy invasion in WWII.

RAF fighter with beer barrels attached to wings, judging by the size likely a Rundlet or a Tierce. Image: G. Marie.

We have a few interesting characters in our line-up. There were at least 14 standard types of cask, ranging from the diminutive Firkin to largest capacity Tun cask, and taking a cursory look over the list one cannot fail to note such appellations as the hefty sized ‘Hogshead’ and the salaciously named ‘Butt cask’.

Cask types common in the colonial period. Image: Cognacdailynews.

Given the dimensions of the cask and the use of (Area=length x π r2) what we appear to have here is a 53.1 L, object close enough to the 50L Quarter cask.

The next task was to investigate the likely provenance of the Quarter casks imported into New Zealand. Besides alcohol, casks had a variety of possible contents. From meat and gunpowder to paint, nails and tallow. A brief overview of the Lyttleton Times’ shipping news between the periods of 1860-80 indicated that the “qr.-cask” was used exclusively for alcohol,  including wine, whisky, gin, brandy, port, rum, and sherry. So ubiquitous was this association that by the 1880s shipping news simply referred to “qr.-cask” as a synonym for a barrel of booze.

So, how did these casks get under the house of the Fendalton nouvelle riche? Being the hardworking, and presumably dour, Scots that the Stoddart family was, I would be surprised if they they had reason to keep nine casks, and there seems to be little evidence of imports being their line of business. So perhaps this was simply a cost and time saving measure by the builders. Unfortunately, we don’t have the surviving contract of works to clear this issue up, so it will remain a mystery for now, but the most simple solution is that the barrels were surplus from a local hotel or commercial business that were sold to the contractors. Nonetheless, it remains a unique find in the context of building foundations in colonial era Christchurch.

Michael Healey

A Brief Foray into Romano-British Archaeology

Archaeologists are often faced with the question of what happens to artefacts after an excavation is complete? As is the case for a lot of excavations, artefacts can find themselves housed in museums. This centuries old institution found its beginning approximately 1500 years ago, with the earliest recorded museum dated to 530 CE –  the birth of an institution that has grown to more than 55,000 museums found over 202 countries. Now that’s a lot of artefact management. Museums are where excavated material and artefacts often end up – either on public display or stored in extensive and very secure facilities. Modern accessions of artefacts into museums is a well-structured process that ensures the origin and information for each artefact is meticulously maintained. However, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the day there was less emphasis on knowing where things came from and more interest in having the biggest and the best. The procurement of artefacts, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries involved the very official process of people either dumping things they found at the front door of museums, or, more officially, ‘hobbyists’ would donate their private collections. It was, and remains, an absolute mystery as to where the artefacts came from. Sadly, the lovely museums of little old New Zealand are not exempt from this issue.

The struggles of dealing with artefacts excavated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Image: imgflip

For my honours dissertation I wanted to see if it was possible to give history back to these artefacts. I chose the Otago Museum as my target location, due to its convenient location across the street from campus, to see if I could pick a portion of their collection and provide information as to where they may have come from. Before my research, the Otago Museum had a collection of 413 artefacts registered as Romano-British pottery. As a budding archaeologist, the thought of being able to handle such a large collection of 2000-year-old artefacts was very exciting. I was provided with the museum’s register of every item in their collection, with whatever information they were given at the time of accession, or details that have been added from later research. In the case of the Romano-British pottery collection, this included, but was not limited to, comments such as “Vase. Roman. Up to about 200. B.C.” or the ever descriptive “Roman Amphora. Found in London”, which doesn’t leave much to go off. This meant that each piece of information had to be teased out from every artefact in the collection. From the form, material, and decoration styles of each artefact, I was able to both eliminate any artefact that had been mislabelled as being Romano-British in origin and begin to quantify the collection. This narrowed the list down from 413 items to 121 complete vessels (note fragments that were not terra sigillata (a type of Roman pottery) were not included in this review). From the 121 artefacts, a random selection was made of 33 vessels that were then compared to assemblages from excavations in the Britain in the 1990s and 2000s. It is reasonably common for museum collections to have a higher quantity of fine ware vessels compared to what is found in archaeological excavations, perhaps indicating that even though this set of pottery was acquired largely through a random sequence of donations, there is a preference towards fine wares that are more ornate and ascetically pleasing. But this was appropriate for the case of Romano-British pottery, as it was common for there to be a higher portion of fine wares in a household assemblage, as coarse wares were mostly used just for cooking or other domestic needs. In the case of Romano-British pottery, fine wares generally referrers to terra sigillata vessels; pottery made from smooth, fine textured clay with a sleek red gloss.  The result of this method of artefact attainment by the museum has left them with a fairly representative sample of Romano-British fine wares from the first century CE through to the third and fourth centuries CE, represented in the museum’s collection of various vessels; jars, bowls, dishes, plates, lids, cups, beakers, flagons, and mortars.

A few larger vessels out of storage for photographing. Image: J. Jones.

Romano-British pottery was the by-product of Roman invasion of Britain, a gradual process that began in 43 CE and saw the eventual introduction of two items essential to the everyday Roman life: the potter’s wheel for vessel throwing and kilns for firing pottery, leading to the birth of Britain’s pottery industry.. The Roman period in Britain saw an explosion in the use of ceramics, enabled by the wide adoption of wheel-throwing and kiln-firing, which made a much wider range of vessel shapes available to ordinary people. Jars used for cooking and storage were the most common vessel type prior to the arrival of the Romans in Britain, but from 43 CE onwards the range of vessels was supplemented by table wares, comprising of bowls, dishes and drinking vessels, serving vessels, such as flagons, and specialised vessels that were new to Britain, such as mortaria for preparing food, and amphorae, which were used to transport imported staples, such as; olive oil, wine, fish products and occasionally fruit (Cooper et al., 2018). Imported table wares were the only vessels that, occasionally, showed signs of repair, meaning even these must have been affordable to most. The British style of ‘Roman’ pottery is distinguishable by a few principle features; red glossy finish, the use of stamps and rouletting, barbotine and mould-formed applied ornament, manufacture within moulds or over forming devices (Hayes, 1997: 12).

This vessel likely would have been used for cooking – note the oxidation. Image: E81.284, Otago Museum, Dunedin.

Typical drinking vessel, seen in the small handle and pedestaled base. Note the oxidation on this vessel is from the firing process. Image: E36.313, Otago Museum, Dunedin.

A rather peculiar shaped bottle – note the excavation location and previous accession location on the vessel. Image: F81.216, Otago Museum, Dunedin.

The origin of this jar was easy – see the excavation location written on the front. Image: E26.48, Otago Museum, Dunedin.

Great example of form 36 terra sigillata fine ware, obvious by the red, glossy finish and decoration around the rim – barbotine applique style with ivy leaves. Image: E48.100, Otago Museum, Dunedin.

Whilst I was able to link artefacts from the Otago Museum to the excavations they probably came from, it wasn’t easy, and it highlighted the problem of museum collections from archaeological excavations with no provenance information. Although I looked at Romano-British pottery, it’s a problem that can be applied to museum collections around the world, including those from excavations in New Zealand. Here in Christchurch, research has been undertaken on the Canterbury Museum’s collection of artefacts from the Redcliffs site complex to associate the artefacts with their archaeological provenance and show the value that museum collections can hold (Kerby 2017).

And of course, when we’re talking about museum collections it’s important to acknowledge the fact that many artefacts housed in museum collections were acquired by ill-means. There has increasingly been more conversation arising around the issue of repatriation. Repatriation is the process of returning an asset, an item of symbolic value or a person – voluntarily or forcibly – to its owner or their place of origin or citizenship. The placement of Kōiwi Tangata and Toi Moko in international museums is a major topic in the issue of repatriation. A programme was established in 2003 as the Karanga Aotearoa Repatriation Programme at Te Papa, mandated by the New Zealand government and supported by iwi. Repatriations have been conducted from 26 separate instutions, in Great Britain, the United States, the Netherlands, Argentina, Australia, and Germany. Since 2003 Te Papa has repatriated 420 Māori and Moriori ancestral remains from overseas institutions, with an estimated 600 ancestral remains still to be returned to New Zealand (Herewini, 2008).

During our excavations across Christchurch we’ve accumulated tens of thousands of artefacts. Whilst we currently store the artefacts, there is a possibility that one day they may end up in a museum for everyone to see. Understanding the problems that face museums when it comes to collections from old excavations means we can make sure we don’t repeat past archaeologist’s mistakes, and that our artefacts never end up in a museum collection with the only information being “found in Christchurch”.

Thanks to the Otago Museum for the use of their images.

Joanne Jones

References

Cooper, N. J., Johnson, E., Sterry, M. J. (2018) Eating in and Dining Out in Roman Leicester: Exploring Pottery Consumption Patterns Across the Town and its Suburbs. Internet Archaeology, 50.

De La Bédoyère, G. (2006) Roman Britain: a new history. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Hayes, J. W. (1997) Handbook of Mediterranean Roman Pottery. London, British Museum Press.

Herewini, T. H. (2008) “The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa (Te Papa) and the Repatriation of Köiwi Tangata (Mäori and Moriori skeletal remains) and Toi Moko (Mummified Maori Tattooed Heads),” International Journal of Cultural Property. Cambridge University Press, 15(4), 405–406. doi: 10.1017/S0940739108080399.

Kerby, G. (2017) ‘Redcliffs Archaeological History and Material Culture’, MA thesis, Otago University.

The Shape of Things

On Wednesday I celebrated my six year anniversary working at Underground Overground Archaeology. I did plan on marking this milestone by staying up all Tuesday night to bake a special six-tiered chocolate cake to bring in to work and share with the team, but because of an out-of-town work assignment, this didn’t happen. Oh well, might get to bake a seven tiered cake next year.

I really wanted to celebrate my six year stint at UOA by writing this week’s blog about my absolute favourite, or at least the most memorable, Christchurch site that I have had the privilege to dig over my six year tour of duty, but I struggled to nail down just one site, because there have been so many, and each of these sites memorable in their own unique ways. So instead, I thought I’d share some of the most memorable archaeological shapes that I have met along the way. When put in context, each shape is like a puzzle piece that holds a little bit of the picture, (or at least the promise of a little bit of the picture), of what life was really like for the people of the past who made  that shape, who left behind their mark in the landscape. Please enjoy.

A small shape from one of the most memorable, and largest of our Lichfield Street sites. Small shapes, round or square, we usually interpret as postholes – those marks left in the ground where the posts of long demolished fences, buildings, or other such structures once stood. The magic of these small shapes often only materialises later on when we are out of the field, when with available historic plans at hand, (and usually a bit of creative guesswork) we can connect the posthole dots on our site plans, and work out where fences and buildings were located. Gotta love the humble posthole. Image: Hamish Williams.

Helen, I really do miss investigating archaeological shapes with you. Image: Hamish Williams.

Larger shapes, whether they be square, rectangular, circular, or like this one, irregular/amorphous, more often than not turn out to be rubbish pits. These are by far the most common type of feature that we find on historic period Christchurch sites – because digging a hole in the back yard and burying your trash was so much easier and cheaper than paying a man to come and take it away. I especially liked the shape of this one, after so many rubbish pit circles and rectangles this one was simply a breath of fresh air. Image: Hamish Williams.

This rubbish pit had a nice rectangular shape, and contained some interesting 19th century rubbish, but it was memorable for me mostly because at the time of finding this one I had a really gouty foot and I did a lot of limping around site from shape to shape. Two weeks of blue powerade and steak and cheese pie morning smokos is less than ideal, I now know, but boy, they were really good pies. Everything in moderation folks. Image: Hamish Williams.

A nice, little, sort-of square rubbish pit. Gouty foot at right of image. Image: Hamish Williams.

Thought at first that this big rectangle was a rubbish pit…..

But then we half sectioned it and found (most of) a timber triangle. The rimu timbers in this large posthole were well preserved and well braced – they clearly supported a big structure. There were in total three such rectangular shaped pits from this site that contained timber triangles – all of these found in a nice neat line. Both images: Hamish Williams.

The two square shapes in the foreground turned out to be long drop pits, and both were memorable because they were some of the first such long drop pits in the city that we got a chance to investigate – they went pretty deep. When they filled up one shape they dug another right next to it (or so we reckon) and then they filled that one up. Some shapes are dirty. Bonus points if you can tell us which of the earthquake damaged buildings in the background was demolished with explosives. Image: Hamish Williams.

These two shapes I liked because they were found so close together, but the shape on the right (a sewer pipeline trench) was made about 30 years after the other one. So close, but oh so far, they almost met, but didn’t – ships passing in the night. Image: Hamish Williams.

These two square shapes I found some time back on a small residential site in Phillipstown, within the footprint of where an 1890s villa once stood. Both shapes were memorable because of their nice clean, straight sides (pits that were dug with a spade not a shovel, me thinks) and that upon investigation both shapes ended up being related to the construction of this 1890s villa – used for mixing up the lime mortar used to build the villa’s brick chimney. I investigated both of shapes in terrible rainy conditions, on an evil wet autumn day. Well worth it though. Image: Hamish Williams.

This square-ish shape with bulged-in brick lined sides Angel found. He asked me to site for a second opinion on how to best go about excavating it (you can investigate archaeological shapes in any number of different ways depending on what kind of information you are after). Turned out to be a brick lined cesspit filled with all sorts of goodies – which we decided would be best going at it not from the top down, but instead we attacked it from the side (classic textbook outflanking manoeuvre). Learn more about the investigation of this curious shape here . Image: Hamish Williams.

Is psychedelic a shape? Better go ask Alice, when she’s 10 feet tall. Image: Hamish Williams.

Rectangular rubbish pit and brick lined well – possibly my two favourite shapes of 2017. Another one from Angel’s site: both shapes ended up teaching us a lot about water supply in 19th century Christchurch. Learn more about that curious subject here .

The shape of a shape is sometimes, but not always, made the way it is because of its intended function. This 1881 brick sewer located deep below Moorhouse Avenue that I got a chance to look at with SCIRT some years ago had an oviform – or egg-shaped cross-sectional shape. Oviform sewers go way back to Roman times: this shape means that irrespective of whether the sewer is carrying a small or large amount of sewage, that sewage will always be travelling at more of a ‘self-cleansing’ velocity. Absolutely the stinkiest archaeological shape I ever had the privilege to know, this was one of the most interesting. Find out more about the repair of this earthquake damaged section of 19th century sewer in one of my earliest blog posts here.

A cross-section through the Ferry Road brick barrel stormwater sewer – built in 1875. The biggest circle – and almost a perfect one. Image: Hamish Williams.

 

What shape is your favourite? We’d love to know.

Hamish Williams.

 

The Dirtiest Word in Archaeology: Fossicking

Disclaimer: This blog post will mainly focus on fossicking on historic sites, as that’s what we have the greatest experience with in Christchurch. We wouldn’t be able to do justice to discussing fossicking on Māori sites, but it has occurred (largely outside urban areas and the standard authority process) since Europeans first came to New Zealand. To make matters worse, fossicking of Māori sites often includes the disturbance of burials, and the collection and treatment of Māori human remains as yet another object. Tangata whenua have made great strides recently in the return of their tupuna, led by Te Papa museum, which you can read more about here.

Second disclaimer: We also need to acknowledge that much of the “archaeology” conducted in New Zealand in the late 18th and early 19th centuries was essentially treasure hunting. New Zealand archaeology evolved from the activities of historians, museum anthropologists, students of Maori lore, and private fossickers and collectors. Back in the early days of “archaeology” – “archaeologists” disturbed archaeological sites to collect artefacts for museum collections, with little regards to context and stratigraphy. These actions have been thoroughly condemned by modern archaeologists and the damage that was done is widely noted.

 

Typically, when we think of archaeological sites being fossicked, images of Egyptian tombs and Mayan temples flash before our eyes. We picture people stealing gold and precious gems (possibly Indiana Jones style) and selling the artefacts to collectors for thousands of dollars. But what if I told you this activity happens all over little old New Zealand?

An Egyptian tomb, a classic fossicking site.

It might look like just an ordinary construction site, but really it’s a crime scene. This is just one of our archaeological sites that have been fossicked in the past year. Image: J. Hearfield.

We hear about archaeological sites being fossicked every so often, usually when weather or erosion has exposed a site on public land, or Heritage New Zealand is reminding the public of the law. In 2015 Northland Age published an article based on the notice Heritage New Zealand put out about what to do when you come across artefacts (don’t take them, cover it up and report it). In 2017 the Otago Daily Times reported that a known archaeological site near Oamaru was fossicked after a storm had exposed artefacts, and that a person or persons had used a garden fork to remove the finds. There are many other articles written over the years about the issue.

Fossicking in the headlines. Clockwise from left: RNZ 2015, Northland Age 2015, ODT 2017, Stuff 2019.

A quick refresher for those that are unsure of what defines an archaeological site in New Zealand: “The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand.” – Heritage New Zealand This includes sites and features below ground as well as buildings, structures, and shipwrecks.

Fossicking is illegal in New Zealand, with archaeological sites and the artefacts they contain protected under several pieces of legislation. The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 protects all New Zealand archaeological sites, whether they are previously known or newly discovered. Under this legislation modifying or destroying an archaeological site is an offence, unless an archaeological authority has been granted by Heritage New Zealand. Certain land is protected further: the Conservation Act and Reserves Act protect areas of New Zealand and taking items from places protected under this legislation is illegal. Depending on where you are, fossicking could involve trespassing under the Trespass Act 1980, and, depending on what you find, the artefacts could also be subject to the Protected Objects Act 1975.

Heritage New Zealand Archaeologist for Canterbury/West Coast Gwen Jackson says:

If you do discover an archaeological site, the best thing to do is to leave it in place and contact your local Heritage New Zealand office. If the site or object is at risk of being damaged or taken while exposed, you can cover it up and mark the site to find later. It’s important to remember that this applies regardless of how the find is made: whether you are walking along a beach, digging on your own private property, or working on a construction site any archaeological find is protected.

Fossicking not only destroys archaeological sites, it also denies the public their right to learn about the history of their communities.

While blanket protection for archaeological sites is capped at the year 1900 under the law, we also have a way to protect significant sites that are more recent. Sites can be ‘declared’ by gazettal, giving them the same protection under the law and making it an offence to disturb or fossick the site without an authority.

In the past 12 months, there have been at least four sites under archaeological investigation by Underground Overground Archaeology that have been fossicked overnight. The main target of these activities has been historic rubbish pits. These actions take away part of the puzzle piece, not only for the history of that site, but also the history and archaeology of Christchurch as a whole. The removal of artefacts, without proper recording, means we lose the ability to connect objects to people from the past, in essence meaning their stories are lost.

A perfect example of a historic rubbish put that was fossicked. When we left site the rubbish pit was exposed in the baulk (side) of the excavation. The next morning it was gone. It is likely the fossickers just shovelled out the contents, leaving a very unstable baulk for the construction team to deal with. Image: J. Hearfield.

On this particular site, not only did we find rubbish pits that had been dug over, but we also found the bottles they were after. Alongside the bottles were a pair of waders. As you can see from the picture above this one, the excavated area had filled up with water due to heavy rainfall. The fact there were waders on site means the fossickers had scoped out the site beforehand and come prepared. We’re assuming that because the waders and bottles were left on site, the fossickers got spooked and bailed, leaving a few things behind… Whilst they left behind the artefacts, we had no idea which feature they had come from as the fossickers managed to destroy five features in total. Image: J. Hearfield.

Another site that was hit. The broken ceramic and bottles were thrown around the edges of the pit, as these were not what these fossickers were looking for. You might be able to spy a couple of bottles left behind. This suggests these fossickers were also spooked while digging. Image: A. Trendafilov.

A third site that was hit. The rubbish pits were completely dug out, meaning no information could be recorded about them. Image: J. Hearfield.

So why is fossicking bad?

When people fossick archaeological sites, they are typically looking for items to keep as part of their personal collection. Whilst the artefact is preserved in these personal collections, the contextual information surrounding where the artefact was found is lost. An artefact by itself might hold information about its own history (such as where and how it was made) but will not tell us much about the people who used it in isolation. The ability for archaeologist to recover all artefacts, broken and whole, from a context we can identify and record (such as a rubbish pit or infilling of hollow ground) means we can connect the use of the artefact and the activity which created the context with the history of the site to reveal the story of the people from our past. Whether that story is one of a quick hole dug in the backyard to get rid of the week’s rubbish or the infilling of a large gully in the centre of Christchurch to reclaim more land for local businesses, archaeologists are able to analyse these artefacts, and share those stories with the public (which is what we do with this blog). When people fossick archaeological sites, they are, in essence, stealing New Zealand’s history from the public and preserving it only for themselves. Ultimately, it is destroying our history.

What type of fossicking happens in New Zealand?

All types! Fossicking ranges from

  • picking up artefacts from beaches and reserves that have been exposed by erosion and weather
  • metal detecting
  • digging up historic deposits on public and private land

What are the differences between archaeologists and fossickers?

Besides the training and working under the legislation, the main difference between the two practices is controlled excavation techniques. These techniques allow us to gain as much information as possible about the activity which created the archaeological deposit before it is destroyed or in some cases is left partly in situ for future generations.

Controlled excavation techniques include:

  • The recording of the exact location of the material that is then produced into a site plan
  • Careful excavation of the material
    • Including observing the type of deposit or feature it was found within (for example, a rubbish pit or infilled well)
    • Staying within the boundary of the feature to record shape and extent
  • Excavating to expose a cross section of the feature can be used to understand the layers of artefacts and other materials
    • A great example of this is a historic rubbish pit. When cross sectioned, it becomes clear if the pit was dug and used for a single deposit or if it was used to discard rubbish over a period of time, creating different layers of material. The artefacts can be used to date these different layers so we can work out how long the pit as used for.
  • Photographic record of the material in situ before being removed for further analysis
  • Analysis of the artefacts
    • used to date when the deposit was likely created as well as understand what activities people were using the land for.
      • Includes dating of maker’s marks, stylistic patterns and samples taken for radiocarbon dating
    • Identifying species from bones and shellfish to learn what people were eating in the past
    • The types of artefacts found can tell us so much about the activity and people who deposited the artefacts such as:
      • what activity was happening on site – whether commercial, residential, industrial
      • What kind of goods people liked/were able to purchase
      • Whether children were part of the family and what kind of toys were played with

Once the controlled excavation is completed, the archaeologist writes a report on all of the findings and submits it to Heritage New Zealand. The report serves as a complete picture of the information recorded on site and how it all fits together to add to our understanding of the past. Once the report is accepted by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, it can be accessed by the public through Heritage New Zealand’s Digital Library, meaning that New Zealand’s history is accessible to all.

Indiana Jones That Belongs In A Museum GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Jamie-Lee Hearfield, Gwen Jackson, Clara Watson, Tristan Wadsworth.