The Archaeology of The Arts Centre

Last week on the blog we gave a brief history of the Arts Centre. Following on from that, today we’re going to be having a look at the archaeology of the site. This blog is related to our exhibition Art of Archaeology on now at the Arts Centre as part of the Christchurch Heritage Festival. If you haven’t already been, then head down to the Boys High building and see some of the artefacts found during the archaeological monitoring of earthquake repair works at the Arts Centre! The exhibition is on until the 8th of November.

As a historic area that was occupied in the nineteenth century (see last week’s blog for more info on that), The Arts Centre meets Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s definition of an archaeological site- a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand. The 2014 Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act protects all New Zealand archaeological sites and states that an archaeological authority is needed if a site is to be modified or destroyed. Because of this, archaeologists from Underground Overground Archaeology have worked alongside contractors to monitor the repair works, recording any archaeology and recovering any artefacts found during the works.

Most of the earthworks we’ve monitored have been minor. They include things like digging new footings for repairing building foundations or trenching for installing new services. The nature of these types of earthworks means that if you love photographs of deep excavation units with beautifully excavated features and nice clean stratigraphic profiles then you’re going to be out of luck!

Having said that, there’s something pretty cool about a digger inside a building- it just looks so out of place! Image: Megan Hickey.

Repairing foundations in the engineering building. This was too tight a spot to get the digger in, so the contractors are excavating by hand. Image: Julia Hughes.

Love a trench! This one is outside the biology and physics buildings. Image: Julia Hughes.

We found a variety of things from the different earthworks that we monitored. In the dry cavities between the walls and floors of the buildings we found many well-preserved paper artefacts including some relating to the university and a rather extensive collection of cigarette boxes!

Paper artefacts found within the buildings from the Arts Centre. Top left is The Elements. The Elements is attributed to the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid and is thought to have been originally published in ca. 300 BC. The textbook is arguably the most famous mathematics book ever to be written and was considered a fundamental text for students in the nineteenth century. This copy was well-loved, with calculations written in pencil on the back page of the book. Top right is an invitation to the 1955 Arts Ball. Middle and bottom rows are just some of the many cigarette and match boxes that we found- Capstan seems to have been a favourite though: Images: Emma Warwick, Clara Watson.

Throughout the site we found lots of nineteenth century artefact scatter. These were small fragments of artefacts located within the layers of the site’s stratigraphy, with no association to specific deposits or features. It is highly likely that this scatter represents the everyday objects that were used by the residents of the site before the Canterbury College was built on the site (see last week’s blog for more info). These artefacts were probably originally deposited in rubbish pits, like we normally find on domestic sites, but the construction of the university likely disturbed and re-deposited the material, creating the layer of artefact scatter that we then found during our archaeological monitoring.

A small glimpse of the nineteenth century artefact scatter that we found in the various trenches we monitored across the site. As you can see, most of the artefacts are heavily fragmented with only a small portion of the original vessel remaining intact. Image: Emma Warwick

The most exciting thing that we found, at least in my opinion, is Feature 1. It might just look like a humble rubbish pit, but this feature was filled with scientific glass ware and was located near the location of the Old Tin Shed.

Feature 1 after it was first exposed by the digger. Image: Peter Mitchell.

Feature 1 during excavation. Some of the test tubes found in the feature can be seen in the centre of the pit. Image: Peter Mitchell.

While the gothic stone buildings may be the legacy of Canterbury College, the first university building was constructed from corrugated iron and known colloquially as the Old Tin Shed. Professors had arrived in Christchurch in the mid-1870s, prior to the construction of the first buildings, and were teaching out of temporary accommodations. The arrival of the new professor of chemistry, Alexander William Bickerton, created a need for a laboratory, and the Old Tin Shed provided the solution. Built in 1876/77, the Old Tin Shed was reminiscent of a rustic farm building.

The Old Tin Shed, a very different style of building to the gothic ones surrounding it. The foundations we found matched up with the footprint of the building. Image: University of Canterbury.

Despite being intended as a temporary solution, the Old Tin Shed remained standing for 40 years until 1916, when it was demolished, and the present-day North Quad was created. It was thought that the building was completely demolished, but during our excavations in the North Quad we found regularly spaced brick features that we think might have been piles from the building’s foundations.

Brick piles from the Old Tin Shed building, uncovered during excavations in the North Quad. Image: J. Hughes.

Ernest Rutherford, famous for splitting the atom and winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908, would have undertaken experiments in the Old Tin Shed during his years of study at Canterbury College. And it’s possible that the scientific glass ware that we found may have been used by Rutherford in his experiments!

A small selection of the many fragments of science glass found in the feature. All up we recovered 167 fragments of scientific glass ware from the feature, representing over 100 test tubes, beakers and ampoules. We’ve chosen not to clean the scientific glass ware so that residue analysis remains a possibility for future research on the assemblage. Image: Clara Watson.

.Thanks to The Arts Centre for collaborating with us to produce this exhibition, and to Christchurch City Council for providing funding. As archaeologists we spend most of our time uncovering stories from the past, so it’s great to have opportunities like Heritage Festival to share them with the general public.

Clara Watson

The Arts Centre

The annual Christchurch Heritage Festival is currently taking place and this year we’ve partnered with The Arts Centre to produce an exhibition showcasing some of the artefacts found during archaeological monitoring of the earthquake repair works at The Arts Centre. The exhibition is located upstairs in the Boys High building and is on until the 8th of November. As well as cool and unusual artefacts, we also have a children’s table set up with fun activities for the kids! If you’re based in and around Christchurch, then we’d love to see you come down and explore!

Keeping with the theme of our Heritage Festival exhibition, this week and next week we’re going to be looking at The Arts Centre on the blog. This week we’ll go over the history of the site and next week we’ll take a closer look at the archaeology and what we’ve found.

Our exhibition at The Arts Centre! Image: C. Watson.

While The Arts Centre is best known for the Gothic Revival buildings that were built as part of the Canterbury College, the site was occupied long before that. Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and later Ngāi Tahu used the network of swamps and waterways of the Christchurch area as mahinga kai/food gathering places, and as temporary resting spots along kā ara tawhito/traditional travel routes. Several kāinga or pā were also located in the central Christchurch area, including the nearby Ōtautahi, which remains a Māori name for the city.

Ōtautahi, before the modern city of Christchurch was built. Image: Maclure, Macdonald & Macgregor, Lith, London. Lyttelton, Published by Martin G. Heywood, [ca 1855]. Ref: D-001-032. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23051035

In 1848, Henry Kemp organised the sale of land from Ngāi Tahu to the British crown, in what was known as Kemp’s Deed. Following this, the land was subdivided by Edward Jolie in 1850 into town sections. The land the Arts Centre now occupies consisted of 22 town sections bordered by Worcester Boulevard, Rolleston Ave, Hereford Street and Montreal Street. This land was not initially intended to be the site of a university but was instead offered for sale to private landowners.

British settlers arriving in Christchurch via Lyttelton purchased the town sections and built houses on them from the 1850s into the 1880s. These settlers included a farmer, chaplain, builder, lawyer, surveyor, saddler, accountant, carpenter and a “gentleman”, along with their families. By 1877, 23 houses and out-buildings had been constructed on the site.

The site of what would become the Arts Centre in 1877. The town sections are numbered in red whilst the black shows the buildings that were located on the site when the map was created. Image: Strouts 1877.

One of the more interesting settlers living at the site was the Reverend Henry Torlesse. Rev. Torlesse purchased four of the town sections bordering Worcester Boulevard in January 1864. Torlesse arrived in Lyttelton on board the Minerva in 1853 to join his brother on his farm in Rangiora. He was ordained in Christchurch in 1859. Rev. Torlesse worked briefly in Okains Bay, where he set up a successful school, before he took up the position of chaplain in Christchurch for the local gaol, hospital, and lunatic asylum in 1864, which likely spurred his purchase of the central town sections on which he built his house. As well as his work as a chaplain, Rev. Torlesse taught lessons in Latin and English to pupils that boarded in his residence on Worcester Boulevard. Torlesse’s private schooling was the first use of the site as a place of education. Rev. Torlesse, along with others, also established a woman’s refuge on corner of Hereford Street and Rolleston Ave. During Torlesse’s work as chaplain he came across many destitute women, who were often driven into prostitution, and he saw the need for the establishment of a women’s refuge in the city. A building for the women’s refuge was constructed on the site by December 1864, and the refuge operated from that building until 1876 when it moved to a different premise elsewhere in the city.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any images of the block from this period, but no doubt the street would have looked something like this. This photo shows Armagh Street looking west to Hagley Park, with Deans Bush visible in the background. Image: Barker, Alfred Charles (Dr), 1819-1873. Armagh Street, Christchurch. Ref: 1/2-022719-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22343733.

Following Rev. Torlesse’s death in 1870, the trustees of his estate sold the land to William Rolleston, Superintendent of Canterbury, in October 1873 for the site of a college and for other educational purposes. The idea of establishing a college dated back to the beginning of the Canterbury settlement in 1848, with 47 of the original 53 members of the Canterbury Association being alumni from either Cambridge or Oxford University and wishing to set up a similar institute in Christchurch. It was not until 1871 that the Canterbury Collegiate Union, formed by trustees of the Canterbury Museum and Christ’s College, became formally affiliated with the University of New Zealand and begun offering classes, temporarily held in Christ’s College’s classrooms.

In January 1874, Benjamin Mountfort was awarded the contract to design the first buildings for the new college, with the first stone building (The Clock Tower), opened in 1877. The buildings were designed in the High Victorian Collegiate Gothic style using basalt from the Port Hills and limestone from Oamaru. Between 1876 and 1926 the Canterbury College purchased and built on the rest of the town sections on the block. Christchurch Girls and Boys High Schools, opened in 1878 and 1881, were constructed to prepare students for higher levels of study, whilst later buildings connected to specific fields of study were built over the next four decades.

Canterbury College in 1880. The Canterbury Museum can be seen as well (along with an excellent penny farthing) Image: Canterbury University College and Canterbury Museum, Christchurch. Foxley Norris album. Ref: PA1-q-094-103. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22897824

In 1957 the University of Canterbury, as it was now officially called, begun the move to Ilam, which provided a bigger site for the expanding university. By the 1970s, the university had left the site and the Arts Centre of Christchurch Trust officially became the owner. The Arts Centre provided a space for Christchurch creatives for around 35 years, until the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes severely damaged the historic buildings.

Next week on the blog we’ll be taking a look at the archaeology of the Arts Centre, in the meant time head down and check out the exhibition for yourself!

Clara Watson

References

This brief history of the Arts Centre was written using information from Strange, G. 1994. The Arts Centre of Christchurch: Then and Now. Clerestory Press, Christchurch.

It is all art to me

*advisory note. This blog includes mention of drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and suicide*

 

The parallels between art and archaeology are closely interwoven. If you were to study art history in school or university, or even for personal enjoyment read Grombrich’s The Story of Art (now in its 16th printing with over 8 million copies – it’s worth a read), you will find that archaeology is at the beginning of the history of art (Grombrich, 2006). Through rock art and decorated objects, the story of art starts as part of its contemporary life and later, much later, whether as a fragment or in its full form, the work lives on as art and archaeology providing part of that all-important interpretation of our social narrative. So, when does art become archaeology? Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History form a trinity covering the analysis and retrieval of material culture, the patterns of use through cultural meaning, norms and values, and an interpretation of aesthetic value through visual means. So, does something stop being art and become archaeology? No, not really.  It is how it is researched, curated, or presented to us, either in a gallery or museum, that creates a norm or a value on how we interpret it.

The art in archaeology, as presented in art history, continues to be an influence and inspiration to many artists. However, it can be a complex of cultural appropriation, and then there is the discussion of taking something out of its context and placing it in a museum or gallery (really this is a whole other blog post) and then also the concept of ‘found art’… (see below- another blog post, but don’t hold me to it as they may be a bit of an unravel).  But this is a blog about archaeology, and the purpose of this post today is a far simpler story of a historian (and part-time artist) finding artists in archaeology.

‘I’m going to pick it up’ T. Wadsworth, 2020. Instagram image of found art by A. E. Gibson, 2020.

It should not have been a surprise to me (but it was) when through the course of my work supporting archaeologists with their research and report writing, that a distinctive cursive form was appearing in archaeological site record forms. It was type of handwriting that when reading it you could almost hear a halting, but knowledgeable, voice, aware of differences, a script suited to the canvas. All the forms were signed with an artistic flourish of ‘T. Fomison’, Tony Fomison. My colleagues were like ‘yeah he was an archaeologist’ and I was ‘nah he was an artist’! It could be said that whilst my colleagues and myself were vaguely aware of Fomison’s other professional pursuits, we were all conditioned by our respective education, meaning that our perception of Fomison’s skill set was that art, or archaeology, was the dominant force in his career. In my case Fomison’s work had been part of my art and design education focusing on New Zealand art. I had known of his connection to Māori rock art but always as an artist.

An ArchSite record written by Tony Fomison in 1859. Image: ArchSite: M36/6, 1959.

Born Anthony Leslie Fomison in Christchurch 1939, Fomison was the eldest of five children. His father, who served with the second Echelon to Maadi Camp and Italy during the war, was a tram driver who later worked at the Dunlop factory in Christchurch. Fomison’s mother worked at the Christchurch public hospital. Fomison grew up in Linwood and was not a well child. It was his mother that encouraged the young Fomison to draw (Fomison, 1994). It was during his time at Linwood High School that the ‘bookish’ Fomison started to cultivate his interest in archaeology and photography, compiling photographic essays. Fomison went on to study sculpture at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts from 1957-1960, avoiding a boilermaker apprenticeship, and, from there, went on to work for the Canterbury Museum as an archaeological assistant (Fomison, 1994). Here, between 1959 and 1962, Fomison cultivated his essayist style of photography, which resulted in work such as documenting the eeling season at Wairewa/Lake Forsyth (Fomison, 1994).

Hocken Snapshop (15th Apr 2020). Forsyth, Lake – Outlet 1958 Eeling Season “At the end of the day’s work”. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 15th Oct 2020 14:04, from https://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/11439.

In 1959 Fomison had been endorsed by Canterbury Museum archaeologist Roger Duff. Along with Owen Wilkes (later a prominent peace activist) and others, on behalf of the museum and Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga), they surveyed the Māori rock art in South Canterbury (Fomison, 1994). It has to be noted that a Theo Schoon had traversed the area in 1947, and made his presence known by scrawling his signature on the limestone rocks at Craigmore (Byrt, 2019). Theodorus Johannes “Theo” Schoon was an Aotearoa New Zealand artist, photographer, and carver interested in Māori art, carving, geothermal activity. He also performed Javanese dance (Skinner, 2000). You could say Schoon held a forthright approach to everything and everyone in his life. Schoon was described by Anthony Byrt in 2019, on the release of his biography by Damain Skinner, as being ‘hinged on whether he’s master or mulch’, in as many words, lacking self-awareness and an artistic agenda that divided many of his acquaintances on his work and insistence (wanted or not) on providing advice (Byrt, 2019). I have tried to be measured in my appraisal of Schoon but Byrt’s colourful take on the artist can be read here.

Fomison recorded the archaeological work in field books, took tracings, and completed a card index of over 450 entries, creating a body of work that must be viewed as a ‘vital component’ that would stand alone archaeologically and provide a wealth of process to his art (Fomison, 1994). The relationship with Duff and the museum was terminated in 1962. Fomsion continued to work from time to time in an archaeological capacity with fieldwork in Taranaki in 1980 and in Rotorua in 1981 (Fomison, 1994). The amount of work that Fomison covered in three years in Canterbury and Banks Peninsula was vast, and archaeology was an aspect of his career that was never far away and was revisited, including the controversial artist Theo Shoon, throughout his life. In 1987 Fomison published an article in the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) newsletter on the topic of Shoon and the retouching of rock art (Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2015). Shoon was accused of having retouched rock drawings during his work recording them. Fomison reviewed the evidence and found it was clear that Shoon had modified some of the work as a ‘restoration dot for dot’ in Shoon’s words (who I imagine did not have an awareness of his white saviour mentality) (Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2019).

It was from 1961 that Fomison started to focus more on his art, using painting as his main medium. In 1963 Fomison was awarded a travel grant by the Arts Advisory Board and travelled to England in 1964. Not a lot of work was produced and Fomison’s travels included a trip to Spain, then joining an ‘Apache’ street gang in Paris. Here Fomison drew pavement art for tourists. Fomison was later imprisoned and subsequently sent back to England. In England a drug habit found Fomison hospitalised at London’s Banstead Hospital. While hospitalised, Fomison began to paint again  (Fomison, 1994). In 1967 Fomison was aided in his return to New Zealand, moving back to Christchurch and living on Riccarton Road with fellow artist Philip Clairmont. Clairmont, Fomison, and Napier based artist Allen Maddox formed a defiant grouping called the ‘Militant Artists Union’ (McAloon, 2009). As you can imagine, the trio exalted the bohemian lifestyle, expressionist and outsider art (see below), all fuelled by drugs and alcohol. They were all enablers of their vices and their talent. Photographer Marti Friedlander captured one of these moments between the friends as part of a documentative series of New Zealand artists. The image is now in the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū collection. This way of life did find Fomison spending six weeks in Rolleston and Paparua prison for drug offences (Fomison, 1994).  After a brief stint in Beverage Street, Fomison moved with Clairmont into 300 Hereford Street, and it was it was here that Clairmont produced Fireplace. They lived and worked at the property between 1971 and 1972. the property is now a listed building with the Christchurch City Council (Christchurch City Council, n.d.: 269; Figure 4). In 1973 Fomison moved to Auckland (Fomison, 1994).

300 Hereford Street: the studio and home to Fomison during 1971-1972. Image: Kete Christchurch, 2009.

In Auckland Fomison immersed himself into Polynesian culture, all the while producing what you could call a distinctive, dark, tormented painting style. Fomison’s work can be uncomfortable, with skull and moon like faces, jesters, and caves, but is without influence from his peers. The term ‘Outsider Art’ has been associated with Fomison, as Howard Davis notes in his article ‘The Outsider Art of Tony Fomison’. Howard goes on to say ‘Fomison clearly relished depicting such unsettling creatures because he felt they literally embodied his deep disdain for ‘civilised’ bourgeois society’ (Davis, 2018).

In Auckland Fomison lived in several places including 17 Gunson Street in Freemans Bay, which was photographed by photographer Mark Adams in 1977. It was in Auckland that Fomison was introduced to Colin McCahon, becoming involved in reviving Tā moko (Fomison, 1994). Think of Friedlander’s images in Michael King’s Moko: Maori Tattooing in the 20th Century. In 1979 the Dowse Gallery in Lower Hutt held the first major survey of Fomison’s work, and it was at this time that Fomison met Paulo Sulu’ape II, a tufuga ta tatau (master tattooist) and started to receive the pe’a. Photographer Mark Adams captures the process of Fomison receiving the pe’a, which is a Samoan male rite of passage. The tattoo was completed in 1980. Fomison continued to live in Auckland, with a brief interlude in 1985 in Wellington as the first Rita Angus Fellow, living at Rita Angus Cottage in Sydney Street West, Thorndon (Fomison, 1994). By 1988-89 Fomison was nearing 50 and in failing health spending time in hospital. His frail health in childhood, combined with his later drug and alcohol use, likely to be contributing factors. Fomison’s final exhibition was in 1989 at the Gow/Lansgord Gallery. In 1990 during his visit to the Waitangi Day 150th celebrations in the Bay of Islands with an old friend, Merry Isaac, Fomison’s health rapidly declined. Fomison died 7th February 1990 aged 51 (Fomison, 1994).

You could say it was a poignant place to die for Fomison, whose immersion in Māori and Polynesian culture wove as a central core throughout his life and his art. His cohorts in the ‘Miliant Artists Union’ faired no less in their time. Clairmont had died aged 34 in 1984 by suicide and Maddox died in 2000 at age 51, having sustained himself and his art on a diet of whisky and cannabis. Maddox’s obituary by Gilbert Wong was quite the piece, but did quote Maddox, of Fomison and Clairmont: “One of the things about those two guys – and I can say this being schizophrenic and having caused them difficulties – is that they were non-judgmental.” (Wong, 2000).

If you want to see Fomison’s work, I can recommend the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū exhibition Te Wheke: Pathways Across Oceania that features Fomison’s Hill top watcher, 1976. This work is amongst my favourites of Fomison. The exhibition notes that the Te Waipounamu/South Island mountains still heavily featured in Fomison’s work despite his later move to Te Ika-a-Māui/North Island and that Hill top watcher could be ‘a reimagining of Aotearoa New Zealand’s pre-history’ (Te Wheke, 2020). There is much more to tell of Fomison’s work, but as a rambler I fear I will do it no justice. But I do still find that seeing Fomison’s writing in the course of my research gives me a little bit of a thrill that his work continues to influence not just in the art world. As for Theo Schoon? Well his mark was well and truly made, the good and the bad (and yes this is a whole other blog post too!).

So, on that note, time to wind up this blog post with a ‘good strength to your paint brushes’ – as Fomison once wrote (Gilber Marriot Gallery, 2019). Or maybe, in this case, your trowels, for there is art in archaeology and an art to it all.

Annthalina Gibson

References

ArchSite, 2020. New Zealand Archaeological Association, Dunedin.

Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2015. Fomison Tony. [online] Available at: <http://archaeopedia.com/wiki/index.php?title=Fomison_Tony> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Archaeopedia New Zealand, 2019. Schoon Theo. [online] Available at: <http://archaeopedia.com/wiki/index.php?title=Schoon_Theo> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Byrt, A., 2019. Book of the Week: That total asshole Theo Schoon. [online] The Spinoff. Available at: <https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/28-02-2019/book-of-the-week-that-total-asshole-theo-schoon/> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Christchurch City Council, n.d. Heritage Statements of Significance – Christchurch.

Davis, H., 2018. The Outsider Art of Tony Fomison. [online] Scoop Independent News. Available at: <https://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/CU1809/S00176/the-outsider-art-of-tony-fomison.htm> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Fomison, T., 1994. Fomison: What shall we tell them. City Gallery Wellington.

“good strength to your paint brushes” part of Tony Fomison’s correspondence to artist Richard Lomas (http://gilberdmarriottgallery.weebly.com/gmg-blog/richard-lomas-coque-tails-exhibition-10-august-7-september-2019)

Grombrich, E.H., 2006. The Story of Art, Pocket Edition. Phaidon.

Hocken Snapshop (15th Apr 2020). Forsyth, Lake – Outlet 1958 Eeling Season “At the end of the day’s work”. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 15th Oct 2020 14:04, from https://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/11439

Kete Christchurch, 2009. 300 Hereford Street. [online] Kete Christchurch: Places and Streets. Available at: <http://ketechristchurch.peoplesnetworknz.info/en/places_and_streets/images/show/919-300-hereford-street?view_size=large> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

McAloon, W., 2009. New Zealand Art at Te Papa. [online] Te Papa Press. Aslo see at: <https://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/object/967769>.

Skinner, D., 2000. Schoon, Theodorus Johannes. [online] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Available at: <https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5s4/schoon-theodorus-johannes> [Accessed 16 Oct. 2020].

Te Wheke, 2020. Tony Fomison, Hill top watcher. [online] Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. Available at: <https://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/2010-003/tony-fomison/hill-top-watcher> [Accessed 15 Oct. 2020].

Wong, G., 2000. Obituary: Allen Maddox. New Zealand Herald. [online] 25 Aug. Available at: <https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/iobituaryi-allen-maddox/XXRWLVA7SGVRCAILBLHIBZL3JA/>.

New Zealand Artists featured

Tony Fomison

Theo Schoon

Phillip Clairmont

Allen Maddox

Rita Angus

Paulo Sulu’ape II

Marti Friedlander

Mark Adams

Merry Isaac

 Galleries

Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki

Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū

Hocken Collections

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

 

The archaeology of uncertainty

Evening, love, how’s your day?

Part 1: the archaeology of uncertainty

As a discipline, archaeology carries with it a lot of uncertainty. A number of times, I’ve been faced with an artefact, feature, or stratigraphic sequence that is difficult to figure out, and that could be one or a combination of several things. Sometimes further investigation clears it up, and sometimes you just have to come to terms with the fact that you may never know for sure. We don’t have a time machine, or ghosts that we can ask to recount their life stories. Radiocarbon dates sometimes have error margins of several decades, which mean we may never know the exact day Māori set foot on Aotearoa. When we excavate a rubbish pit in Christchurch, we try to associate it with a particular occupant, but are often in a situation where the uncertainty of the artefact dates means that an assemblage could have belonged to one or more family groups over a long period of time. A large part of the discipline is interpretation, and there’s a joke among archaeologists that goes something like: “if you put one archaeologist in a room with a question, they’ll come out with two different answers”. People commonly conceive of the past as something that is solid and unchanging in a way that the future is not, but we are constantly re-evaluating our understanding of the past based on new evidence. Looking into the past is like looking into the horizon on a hot day, the farther you look, the hazier it gets. As an archaeologist, uncertainty is just something you just have to get used to.

chicken feeder

Sometimes we figure out brief mysteries pretty quick, like Clara’s identification of this chicken feeder recently featured on out Facebook page.

Features 41 and 56, at the CJESP site, a pair of  likely privy pits formed in the 1880s. These privy pits, and the artefacts within them, may have been associated with Richard Brown,  a bootmaker, or a Mrs. Rose, a dressmaker, or perhaps both. Both were active at the corner of Durham and Tuam Streets around the time the artefacts were deposited (Williams, et al. 2017).

upside down bottle feature

Still a mystery. A circular feature of carefully placed upside-down bottles at the Christchurch Convention Centre (Trendafilov et al. in prep). We’re still not sure exactly what the purpose of this was. Image: Hamish Williams.

Part 2: The archaeology of uncertainty

At the start of the February, I went on a three-week holiday to the exotic ‘northern hemisphere’. At the start, the recently reported coronavirus seemed restricted to China. Three weeks later, heading home from the UK, that country was reporting 8 or so cases. Our flight through Hong Kong got re-routed through the US. On 28 February, New Zealand reported its first case of covid. Less than a month later, NZ case numbers surpassed 100, and NZ went into Alert Level 4 on the 25th of March. Time was running wild.

As I’m writing this, the global total of the coronavirus pandemic has surpassed 30 million cases, and just passed 1,000,000 deaths. Not a good one at all. The west coast of the USA is being ravaged by wildfires, just as the east coast of Australia was at the start of the year. Apparently approximately half the world’s population is in some sort of lockdown restrictions. The ‘travel bubble’ between NZ and Aus that was discussed optimistically in the middle of the year now seems unlikely to occur before 2021. I googled ‘trans-tasman bubble’ and got internet reckons ranging from ‘weeks away’ to ‘mid-2021’ so who the blimmin’ heck knows. Don’t speak too soon, the wheel’s still in spin.

When I talk to people about this period, I often remark how we lived in a world without plans (though the return to Level 1 across the country has reproduced some kind of normality). The spectre of uncertainty has devoured the ideas of all those kiwis who planned to make an overseas trip, or start an OE or a business, or buy a house. An untold number of people don’t know when they’ll see loved ones again. Uncertainty isn’t a peculiarity of our current phase, but it seems more present to us because so much of our modern mode of living, things we took for granted, have been affected by the pandemic and the human response to it. In truth, we are constantly exposed to change, both in our natural environment, and in the behaviour of our fellow humans. The outlook for Thursday? Your guess is good as mine.

So what does archaeology tell us about uncertainty and how people responded to it? Much of the archaeological approach to uncertainty is related to the variability, both seasonal and year to year, of the environment and the resources we use and consume. The change of the seasons may be regular, but there can be great variability, and therefore, uncertainty in these seasons: really rotten weather, temperatures, winds, pests, and so forth, all affecting seasonal produce, and causing pressure from the hinter to the heartland. This variability is not solely environmental (if such a thing exists), but is also exacerbated by human activity like overharvesting, overstocking, habitat destruction etc. etc. etc. For a local example of seasonal variability, my bloody cauliflower hasn’t seen fit to sprout heads this year, so I’m going to have to look elsewhere for ingredients for my aloo gobi. Every time I thought I’d got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet.

cauliflower traitors

Traitors.

The environment – natural and cultural – offers us good years and bad years, or even less specifically, good times and bad times. Archaeologists generally lump cultural responses to food variability and scarcity into four categories: mobility (go somewhere else), diversification (eat a bunch of different stuff), storage (eat some stuff that you have now, later), and exchange (get some stuff to eat from somebody else; Halstead and O’Shea, 1989). Some of these approaches are better suited for dealing with different kinds of variability, and some strategies mesh better in combination: mobility and diversification work well together because food resources tend to be environmentally scattered, whereas mobility and storage are often considered non-complimentary because large surpluses have to be left behind if you’re moving elsewhere. Our modern global food system tends to be a combination of diversification, storage, and exchange, the latter two combining to mean that lots of seasonal produce is now available year-round. If you’ve ever done seasonal harvest work or fly-in fly-out work, mobility will be a familiar part of the economic system to you.

As a buffering strategy against uncertainty, storage effectively turns a seasonally available surplus of food into future food for less productive seasons and can see you through a bad harvest in the future. A cucumber might go off in a week or so, but you can move into a new flat and find a pickle jar from the 1980s still lurking in the back of the cupboard. I like to think of a refrigerator as a one-way, slow-moving time machine. Every time you put something in there, you’re sending it a short length of time into the future, though it does continue to age slightly slower on its journey. Storage of food is not a uniquely human behaviour, but we’ve certainly nailed the greatest diversity of techniques  – including drying, freezing, fermenting, etc. – and food stored or preserved in some way forms a major part of the human diet worldwide. The development of animal husbandry could also be seen as a way to store meat ‘on-the-hoof’. My homemade lockdown kimchi (yes, I’m a hipster) is part of the grand tradition that includes 2000 year old beef jerky and 9,200 year old fermented fish. Storage is often related to the conversion of a resource that occurs in substantial amounts over a relatively short period of time, so is associated with aggregate communities (often dispersed) coming together to harvest and prepare. In Aotearoa, Māori used and continue to use a range of techniques to store and preserve food, including smoking the huge numbers of tuna/eels that migrate out to sea each year, and the preservation of the annual tītī/mutton bird harvest in pōhā/bull kelp containers (Anderson 1997, 1998). A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, but a bird in vacuum-seal might be a bit more expensive this year seeing the season was cut short.

eel poha

Preparing pōhā in 1910. Image: Basil Keane, ‘Te Māori i te ohanga – Māori in the economy – The Māori economy’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/25761/poha-containers (accessed 2 October 2020). Story by Basil Keane, published 11 Mar 2010

dry

Drying eels at Waihora/Lake Forsyth, Canterbury, 1948.
Image: John Wilson, ‘Society – Food, drink and dress’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/2542/drying-eels (accessed 2 October 2020). Story by John Wilson

bog butter

Bog butter, and its wooden container, from County Kildare, Ireland (National Museum of Ireland – Archaeology). This was butter was buried to preserve it almost 2,500 years ago, but evidently never retrieved. Image: Tristan Wadsworth.

Perhaps the most archaeologically visible form in storage in New Zealand archaeology is the kūmara storage pit. One of the most commonly recorded archaeological features from Horomaka/Banks Peninsula right up to the top of the country, these semi-subterranean pits are the remains of roofed storage facilities for kūmara and other crops. The cool, dry conditions allow the kūmara to keep for longer, both for food over winter, but also to ensure a supply of seed crops for the next year’s planting (Davidson et al. 2007).

Remains of kūmara  storage pits, Auckland. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 19th century Christchurch, preserved foods perhaps are over-represented in the archaeological record, as they tend to be associated with storage containers that survive through to the modern day, whereas fresh ingredients do not. So we often find vinegar bottles, branded and unbranded preserving and canning jars, and the classic stoneware ‘oyster jars’ for pickled oysters or fish and other food pastes.

‘Oyster jars’. Often used for storing pickled oysters. Image: Chelsea Dickson.

A typical wide-mouth pickle jar. Good for preserves of all sorts. Image: Clara Watson.

An Anchovy Paste jar found in Christchurch and accompanying recipe from 1904. Image: J. Garland, Otago Witness 17/08/1904: 67.

I also want to talk about one of the sites we’ve covered on the blog before: a bonded warehouse that is one of our largest and, to me, most interesting central city sites, and one of multiple bonded warehouses that existed in nineteenth century Christchurch. Jessie’s blog describes how the bonded warehouse was a building in which “goods could be stored and remain exempt from customs duties. They were usually used to store goods and bulk merchandise until they were distributed for retail, at which time those duties and taxes would have to be paid.” The rubbish pits from this site contained remarkably uniform deposits of numerous, identical, and still sealed alcohol bottles, interpreted as stock – full bottles – that had been destined for sale in Christchurch, but that never made it to market, and were instead discarded. Now I’m certainly no economist (Don’t want to be a richer man, and couldn’t tell you the difference between a $4b fiscal hole from an $11b one), but it seems to me that at least in part, the bonded warehouse represents an adaptation to the uncertainty of the international import market. Stock could remain in storage, exempt from customs tax, until such time as it was profitable to sell. However, the discarded stock we find at these sites shows us that trying to wait out the market uncertainty didn’t always result in a final positive outcome (Garland et al., 2014).

One of the rubbish pits found at a bonded warehous site, containing a large number of J & R Tennent sealed bottles. Image: J. Hughes.

A couple of the J & R Tennent sealed tops found in the rubbish pit shown above. The side of the seal reads: “Bottled by J & R Tennent” and (not pictured) “Betts & Co / Patent / Patent / Trade Mark / London.” Betts & Co were the original patentees and manufacturers of metal bottle capsules like these. They were founded in 1804, but weren’t established in London until 1840. The company continued to manufacture bottle capsules until the 1960s: these particular seals were probably made between 1860 and 1915 (Nayton 1991). Images:  J. Garland.

Straying a little further from physical archaeology, I wanted to touch briefly upon the notion of insurance as a modern approach to risk and uncertainty (though I’m not trying to sell you insurance). When we talk about exchange as a buffering strategy for resource variability, it’s not just the modern exchange of currency for goods, but more generally any way in which “present abundance is converted…via social transactions, into a future obligation in time of need.” (Halstead and O’Shea, 1989). This works a bit like storage, except the method of conversion is social rather than physical, and is based around the reciprocal nature of human relationships. Friends and families tend to take care of each other in turn during tough times, and there’s a sliding scale in terms of how formalised the nature of that reciprocity tends to be.

When conducting historical research for some of our sites, we regularly come across insurance claims, particularly reports of fire in local newspapers where the value the building and effects are explicitly listed (see The City Remains for the story of the destruction by fire of the Christchurch Librarian’s house in 1894 but also check out this blog post for a dodgy insurance claim and the mysterious Case of the Severed Hand in Taylor’s Mistake. Insurance companies can be seen as modern, communal but corporatised methods of ‘exchange’ – as buffering strategies against the uncertainty of events such as fires, unexpected death and injury, converting small surpluses in the present to future reciprocal aid. In 19th century Christchurch, those social supports were often associated with fraternal orders such as the Freemasons or Oddfellows, the latter of which’s support was largely aimed at the working class (but just men, because patriarchy).

I don’t know if all that helps with consideration of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic world, but one of the takeaways for me is that buffering strategies are typically reliant on community action and existing relationships. Mass harvest and the preservation of resources requires community organisation, and exchange is based on the inherently reciprocal nature of human relationships, where we help out others in tough times, because we know they will do the same for us. In both cases, the products of communities are greater than the sum of their parts, and we’ll be together, yeah, together by design. Shoutout to my Ma and Pa for the venison, to my outlaws for the preserves, and to Kirsa and Lou and Hamish for the fruit and veg and homebrew that I consumed over lockdown. I’ll leave you with this. According to Dr. John Wikipedia the first company to offer life insurance was the ‘Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance Office, founded in 1706 in London. In the ‘current times’ I wish all of you out there all the Perpetual Assurance, and Amicable Society you need.

Chur,

Tristan

Also, don’t hoard toilet paper.

References

Anderson, A. ‘Historical and archaeological aspects of muttonbirding in New Zealand.’ New Zealand Journal of Archaeology 6 (1997): 35–55.

Anderson, A., 1998. The welcome of strangers : an ethnohistory of southern Maori A.D. 1650-1850. Dunedin: Otago University Press.

Davidson, J.M., Leach, F., Burtenshaw, M. and Harris, G., 2007. Subterranean Storage Pits for Kūmara (Sweet Potato, Ipomoea Batatas L. Lam.): Ethnographic, Archaeological and Experimental Research in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Archaeology, 28 (2006), pp.5–49.

Garland, J., Carter, M., and R. Geary Nichol. 2014. The Terrace, Christchurch: report on archaeological investigations. Unpublished report for Hereford Holdings. NZHPT Authorities 2013/757eq & 2014/134eq.

Halstead, P. and J. O’Shea. 1989. ‘Introduction: cultural responses to risk and uncertainty’ in Halstead, P. and J. O’Shea. 1989. Bad Year Economics: Cultural Responses to Risk and Uncertainty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Trendafilov, A., Garland, J., Whybrew, C., Mearns, L., Lillo Bernabeu, M., Hennessey, M., and K. Webb. In prep. Christchurch Convention Centre Precinct. Final report on archaeological monitoring under HNZPT authority 2017/280eq.

Williams, H., Garland, J. and Geary Nichol, R., 2017. Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct Archaeological Report. Unpublished report for the Ministry of Justice.

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