Preparation Day at the Vietnam Underwater Archaeology Training

On preparation day at the Vietnam Underwater Archaeology Training, the teams are spread throughout the Bach Dang Hotel lobby and restaurant writing up reports for all the projects we worked on in the last four weeks. We’ve had time to work on quite a few projects in four weeks, both underwater and on land: it’ll take the Institute of Archaeology in Hanoi a while to read through all of them. Thankfully they will only receive group reports, not individual reports for the 30+ participants who’ve come to Hoi An from all over Southeast Asia as well as Sri Lanka, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, the US and Japan.

VUAT has certainly kept us busy. We go diving at Cu Lao Cham island two or three days a week and spend the other days working on land projects; Sunday is lecture day. At Cu Lao Cham, we’ve worked on several sites, including a stone anchor site, an unidentified assemblage of ceramics, and a potential shipwreck site. We spent a few days recording the stone anchor, one team used photogrammetry to produce a 3D model of the anchor. The assemblage of ceramics was found very close to the shore, in less than one meter of water. In such shallow water, we could do the baseline-offset recording without diving, which to my great delight meant no wetsuits! Of course, I got a wicked sunburn and spent the rest of the trip being called X-Man by my team leader because of the bright white cross on my bright red back. Once we had the baseline-offset technique down in 50cm of water, we applied it to the potential shipwreck site at 2m depth. Like the previous site, this site is really an assemblage of ceramics. Unlike the previous site, the ceramics found here clearly came from the same place. That, the sheer amount of ceramics we found, and the fact that some of them were stacked, lead us to believe this is what is left of a shipwreck. Dr Le Thi Lien of the Institute of Archaeology was able to identify it as a 16th or 17th century Cham ship built locally. As it is close to shore, in shallow water, and there are no complete ceramics, we suspect the site has been visited by the local fishermen. In any case, we set a 30m baseline and used 1mx1m frames to measure, describe and photograph the ceramics.


The land projects aimed to give us a better understanding of maritime history in the region. We visited 17th century Japanese graves, worked with shipwreck ceramics at the Hoi An Center of Cultural Heritage Management and Preservation, and learned about traditional boat building. We visited a couple boat yards and talked to the fishermen and shipwrights working there, then measured and photographed the boats. There are three types of boats in Hoi An: large European-style fishing boats, táu, smaller traditional fishing boats, ghe, and even smaller basket boats, thuyền thúng. My favourite land project however was talking to Xa Lan, a fisherman living in Cu Lao Cham.

Xa Lan invited us into his home and gave us a lot of information on where to find potential sites.

Xa Lan invited us into his home and helped us identify potential sites.

We visited Xa Lan at the beginning of week 3; it took us a while to get him to tell us about things he’d found underwater but eventually he opened up and had a lot to say. A lot. He is very frustrated that there are no funds available to study the history of Cu Lao Cham, so when we told him about our project he was happy to tell us all about what he’d seen and found while free diving for crustaceans and mollusks. He talked about a French shipwreck, lead ingots weighing up to 300kg, a heap of bricks lying 120 meters off shore, and two separate anchor sites. On Wednesday, we picked him up on speedboat so he could show us all the sites. A lot of the sites were quite deep and while Xa Lan can free dive to 50 meters, most of our divers aren’t allowed to go past 9m so we couldn’t investigate most of the sites. We sent some divers to look at the French shipwreck site even though Xa Lan warned us that the locals had picked it clean and there would not be anything left. He was right. In the end, none of the sites we were able to send divers to check out turned up anything but we still have the deeper sites to investigate!

Participating in the Vietnam Underwater Archaeology Training has been an incredible experience. Aside from the practical skills I’ve acquired, I’ve met the most interesting and talented people, whom I really hope to continue working with in the future. Each week we’ve had presentation from participants about maritime archaeology in their countries; exciting things are happening in Southeast Asia and I for one want to be involved.

The VUAT members on the last day.

The VUAT members on the last day.

A Light That Lightens the World: The Angas Family History

Collingrove Homestead used to be the family home of the Angas family. It is situated near Angaston in the Barossa and is one of the heritage houses now cared for by the National Trust of South Australia.

Collingrove was designed in the early 1850s by Henry Evans for his famous brother-in-law John Howard Angas, whose pastoral endeavours defined the agricultural future of South Australia (Anon 1976:3). The house was named after John Howard’s wife, Suzanne Collins.

I visited Collingrove as part of my Directed Study project and met with John Howard’s descendant, Colin. Although he is 93 years old, Mr Colin gave me a tour around the house and explained how the living space changed over time. It was a cold and rainy morning, so afterwards we sat by the fire and discussed his memories of the family and his growing up at the estate.

Although very important historically, Collingrove doesn’t have the same architectural value as other heritage houses, such as Carrick Hill or Lindsey Park – the other former Angas residence. Collingrove is much smaller in scale and, first of all, was envisioned as a building that would accommodate life centred on the pastoral activities of John Howard Angas. The most important features of this house are simplicity and practicality, yet the house also oozes a cosy feel. Of course, over time the house has changed and been altered to better suit the family’s needs. The outbuildings that are still preserved today are the former stables, coach-house and workshop, as well as the office building that was built later.

After Collingrove was bequeathed to the National Trust of South Australia by Mr Colin’s father, Ronald Fife Angas, in 1976 (Anon1976:7), many of the family’s artefacts – furniture, paintings, books, dining accessories and memorabilia – were preserved and displayed so that visitors could sense the lifestyle the Angas family used to live.


Collingrove Homestead

Being very wealthy and respectful, the Angas family was part of a high social circle, but still they nurtured ideals of equality and taught their children to treat everyone with respect. Mr Colin still fondly remembers many of the staff who worked at the house back then, and how he and his siblings used to share their hopes and fears more often with maids and nannies than with their parents (George 2006:13). Many sports were practiced on the estate – polo and rifle shooting being among the most popular (George 2006:19) – but as avid fans of car racing, Colin and his brother Bob also built a hillclimb on one part of the estate in the 1950s.

Because of its historical value, Collingrove homestead remains one of the most important heritage buildings of South Australia. Architecturally, the house successfully integrates an English country house atmosphere with the features of new Australian pioneer buildings. Collingrove, with its alterations, embodies the changes the Angas family went through, but, as such, it is also a symbol of the shifts that took place in South Australian society from early colonial days until the 1970s.


Anon, 1976 Collingrove, its Origins and Associations. Adelaide: National Trust of South Australia.

George, K. 2006 Colin Fife Angas: Full Transcript of an Interview. Adelaide: State Library of South Australia.

Holbæk and Handsker – A Fieldtrip to Denmark

The Danish word for gloves is handsker, which, when directly translated, is not too far off from ‘hand shoes.’

The irony of this was not lost on me as I slid my thermal gloves over my feet and then into my sleeping bag, preparing myself for the night ahead.

‘A Danish spring will be fine’, I had thought to myself. ‘You’ve lived in a tent before while on fieldwork, and how cold can it really get?’

The museum at Kalundborg

The museum at Kalundborg

Before I continue I should provide some context. My name is Iain Gately, and I am a student in the maritime archaeology program here at Flinders University. My career (in whatever sense that term can be ascribed to the past 10 years of my life) has seen me move from deep submergence archaeology, performed by robots hundreds of metres below the sea, to some of the oldest evidence for human habitation in the Pilbara, and everything in between – before finding myself stuck in a tent in Denmark, putting gloves on my feet.

It all began quite innocently. I had taken a class that promised a new look at maritime archaeology, exploring the submerged landscapes of prehistory, and what this could reveal about human societies across the globe. I found myself drawn to Denmark, a country where I had spent some time studying and living, beginning my Master of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southern Denmark. Denmark has long been a leader in the study of submerged prehistory, which has seen some extremely important discoveries occur in the waters surrounding it. Developing my thesis over about 4 months, I tried to apply techniques I had learned here in Australia to the Danish environment, in an effort to determine ways to differentiate between settlement sites and food procurement sites within the archaeological record.

Museum Archives

The Kalundborg museum archives

The site I chose to look at, M.T. Naes, was excavated in 1989, as part of the construction of the Great Belt Bridge that now links the islands of Zealand and Funen. Some extremely significant work was done here, looking at the submerged prehistory of Denmark and it was a real privilege to be able to access the material as part of my research. I would be analyzing the 3,712 pieces of archaeological flint that were excavated from the site, hoping to determine what characteristics could be identified among them, and what this could tell about the characteristics of its occupation.

My workspace within the headquarters of the Museum of Western Zealand. Note that one cup of coffee was often insufficient for the magnitude of the task.

My workspace within the headquarters of the Museum of Western Zealand. Note that one cup of coffee was often insufficient for the magnitude of the task.

I was working in tandem with the museum of West Zealand, led by Niels Wickman. They were excellent hosts, and provided me with everything I could possibly need, even my own bike! After my first week there, Niels was even able to find me a small apartment to stay in, which provided a welcome relief from the icy Danish spring. In addition to working at the museum’s offices in Holbaek, I was also lucky enough to visit the storage facilities in Kalundborg, and check out an excavation that the museum was undertaking of a Neolithic settlement.

Blade 1

A blade from the site of M.T. Næs

The fieldtrip was a great success, and I was able to record all of the material from the site in the two weeks I was away. I have yet to begin my analysis but I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes out of it. Stay tuned for further developments!

Can we improve the Flinders Archaeology blog?

Since 2008 the Flinders Archaeology Department has run a blog, and for the past few years it has lived at

The blog was originally designed to provide a forum for students and staff to share information and to promote their experiences in doing and learning about archaeology. It has been a very successful endeavour, with almost 500 posts, 80,000 page views, some 978 email subscribers and on average 11-12,000 unique visitors each year. I suspect few other archaeology blogs around the world have statistics like this, and it’s something that we should be very proud of.

Unfortunately though, the blog is looking tired and there have been some questions raised about its purpose, audience and its relevance to students. For this reason, we are considering making some enhancements to the blog this year. We obviously need to do this carefully, and to ensure that we listen to users about what can be improved and what kinds of services the site should offer.

To this end, we are kicking off the project with a very quick survey and I ask all Flinders University archaeology students, ArchSoc members, staff, adjuncts, community members and industry partners to take 5 minutes to fill this form out. Once we have collated feedback, we will be holding a forum with interested volunteers to further discuss our plans before we begin to implement them over the rest of the year.

The survey can be accessed at:


Getting to the bottom of things

This is about how a group of archaeologists dug some trenches. It began with a Flinders University field trip to Magpie Creek ruin, Sturt Gorge, South Australia and the aim of excavating the site to see what we could learn about it. We needed to dig six trenches. Digging a trench might sound easy; however, you need to know where to dig, how wide to dig, how deep to dig, and when to stop digging. First we consulted with Bob, our expert on where to dig holes. Bob selected six places within and outside the ruin where we were likely to uncover artefacts. Our trench sizes ranged from 1 x 1.5 metres to roughly 2 x 2 metres. That was a manageable size for a small team of three or four of us to dig, sieve, and record the changes in context, and the artefacts uncovered. First, we moved away the loose rocks on the surface, then we measured our trench and ran a string along the perimeter so we knew the boundary of the trench.


Excavation trench position marked out with string

Then came the digging. It started with a trowel. We poked with point, dragged and scraped along with the side of the trowel to remove the deposit. The idea is to remove the material quickly, but not to break up any artefacts, and to notice changes in the deposit, or context. These changes included changes to the composition, density and colour of the deposit that were indications that a change happened at that point.


The team from trench E busy excavating with trowel and shovel

Each time the context changed the details of the size, composition, PH and colour were recorded, together with details of any artefacts uncovered. Levels and the surface area of the new context were measured and recorded, and then this new context was excavated. This continued until the original, undisturbed soil surface or other structure was reached.


A new structure and context is reached. This image shows a brick floor uncovered by the excavation

Once the undisturbed natural soil, or a new feature, was reached we had hit the bottom. At square ‘A’ shown in the image above, most of the excavation involved removing a built up deposit that had resulted from the collapse of the walls. Once the deposit was removed a brick floor was uncovered inside the building, together with an adjoining floor composed of plaster and soil. This was the only area of the building that had a brick floor. The use of this substantial floor material is an indication that it was an important area within the building. Below this it was a very short distance to the natural soil. When the excavation was completed the site records were updated, and then we back filled the trenches and tidied up the site.