Category Archives: Posts from the field

Posts about fieldwork

10 Canoes! No not really. 5 canoes, but in 2 days!

Our canoe workshop. Top, L to R: Mark Polzer, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Jason Raupp, Zidian James, Rachel Powell, David Payne, Jacob Jordan. Bottom, L to R: Jennifer McKinnon, John Naumann, Sheena Rodrigues, Roger Halliday, Jonathan Nicholls

We’ve completed our second and last day of the Indigenous canoe building workshop with David Payne of ANMM (more details in previous post). Many of us had our doubts that we’d be able to make working, floating watercraft out of the pile of stringbark and paperbark that lay before us on the first day. However we managed to make five different types of Indigenous watercraft by the end of the workshop! These include a sewn bark canoe, a tied bark canoe, a raft, a bundled paperbark canoe and a “shopping trolley” as David has called it. With a good amount of instruction from David and attention to detail we all managed to make a model that resembled and potentially could even perform as a watercraft. I think we all learnt that the skill and knowledge Indigenous watercraft builders need(ed) to make useable vessels for transport, movement and procurement of food is more than we expected.

Our second day of canoe building included a lot of excitement. We finally were able to light our fire in order to burn off the exterior of our bark canoes we built the previous day. We also had a visit from students in the Screen and Media program who filmed our activities and interviewed David. The most interesting aspect of the workshop to me was how we all needed to improvise. We had a certain set of materials and basic tools but from those and our surroundings we improvised to make our canoes work. For example, we needed sharp tools to sew our bow and stern of the bark canoe together, so one student found that a palm tree in our yard had very sharp spikes on it. She took one of the thorns, poked a hole in it and threaded her line through it to act as a needle and sewed her canoe together. Brilliant! Based on his own research, David related that the communities that built/build canoes take the same sort of approach. They work with what they have available. In the end we had a great time and hope that another workshop will eventuate. I could see this as being an annual event. Next time, though, we are going for the full scale model!

Thanks again David for a wonderful workshop and a stimulating public lecture. Also, thanks to SA Museum Keryn and her crew for procuring our raw materials. Stop by office next week if you want to see some of our models on display…

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HMB Endeavour Makes Port

Although HMB Endeavour arrived 90 minutes late into Port Adelaide due to the rail bridge malfunctioning, the vessel has made its mark on the Port. Monday 20th saw a small group of Flinders students join the hundreds boarding the ship, and many more passers-by simply coming to have a look.

We were met by a guide as we stepped onto the vessel, who began to explain various aspects of the ship in our immediate vicinity such as the operation of the anchor, the cannons and the ‘washing machine’ (better known as a bucket with salt-water). Moving then to the foredeck, more information was given, this time concerning the toilet and the piece of unwoven wet rope used in place of toilet paper. We then had the experience of going below deck and learning about life on board.

Throughout the tour, groups were passed on to each area’s guide and given a glimpse of what like would have been like on board the vessel. Moving through the cramped spaces, into rooms only 4ft high, and up narrow staircases, while fun the first time, would have been awful after months on board. We soon escaped into the open air again, after being shown both Sir Joseph Banks quarters and Captain James Cook’s quarters. The last part of the tour was an explanation of steering and some of the guide’s experiences on sailing the ship recently (now with GPS).

Leaving Endeavour felt rushed, like there was more to see. Perhaps this is from being ushered through the rooms as the guide in front becomes free or simply that only some rooms are open for visitors. To view the entire ship I would have had to sail with it or volunteer to be a night guard or guide (all quite tempting but too late now). However, I also left feeling full of new information and things to go look up later on Google.

To have missed this opportunity would have been unfortunate, as its not everyday that a tall ship sails into Adelaide.

I would recommend any one with the chance to visit Endeavour before it closes on Thursday, or even to view its departure on Friday, to do so. There is also still time to volunteer on board at its next port, Portland, Victoria (applications due 27th Feb). For more information about the Endeavour see its webpage

Written and Photographed by Cassandra Morris

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Recording cannon in the rain

Well, here we are in the rain on Friday recording cannons. Today’s master class is all about understanding cannons – their history of use, construction and how to record them archaeologically. We started off with a lecture in the nice dry lab and then headed out to the field. Did you know that there are two cannons at the Old Gum Tree in Glenelg? The OGT is where Capt John Hindmarsh proclaimed the establishment of the South Australian colony in 1836.

We are first sketching the cannons and then taking specific measurements to draw them to scale. Unfortunately we had to bring Mylar to write on even though we aren’t working underwater. The rain is spoiling our parade but that hasn’t stopped some good work from happening.

Does anyone know where there are cannons around town? Post a comment because we want to practice our recording skills.


Searching for a Saint’s Stables (a tale of one site, two trenches, seven days of excavation, 16 archaeologists, 100 primary school students and hundreds of domestic artefacts)

Sarah Nahabedian excavating in Trench A

Mary MacKillop may be Australia’s first saint, but a core part of her story revolves around her passion for providing schooling for all children.  At Penola she and her two sisters began teaching the Catholic children of the district in their own cottage, then the church, and finally a disused stables owned by William McDonald on an allotment at the corner of Queen and Bowden Streets.  The stables were only used as a school for one year between 1866 and May 1867 until a purpose-built school was ready, but it was on the 19th March 1866 that Mary is generally acknowledged to have begun to lead a religious life.  This is the date that the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart is officially recognised as being founded (, giving the site of the stables a critical role to play in the Mary MacKillop story.  The property remained in the McDonald family until 1925 when it was transferred to The Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart, South Australia Inc.  The stables were demolished sometime between 1909 and 1925 and the site is now known as MacKillop Memorial Park.

How many archaeologists does it take to survey a site ...?

We excavated one trench at the front of the block (where a previous electromag survey had identified a ‘hot spot’.  In the end this turned out to be the limestone bedrock that gives the Limestone Coast its name and nothing to do with archaeological artefact signatures) and two at the rear, hoping to intersect the site of the stables.  Trench A at the front turned out to be the photogenic trench and contained the majority of artefacts, but Trench B kept the classes from the Mary MacKillop Memorial School enthused for days by giving them the chance to excavate a real site.  We now know that it’s possible to fit at least a dozen kids in a 2 x 2m trench, along with four archaeologists, without crowding.

Black glass ‘whistle’ button recovered from Trench A

Hardly a day went by without visitors to the excavation, almost all of whom had watched Time Team and were excited just to see the process of archaeology in action.  Some were driving through Penola en route to Melbourne or Adelaide (one couple had come from Perth, heard about it on the radio and decided to drop in on their way), others were locals who remembered the site.  One visitor was the great grandson of William McDonald, who originally owned the allotment and allowed Mary MacKillop to use the stables as a temporary school, another was a council worker who helped landscape it into a park in 1971; two others had played on the block as children in the 1920s and 30s.  All of them were curious to know more about what we were doing and what we’d found.

Kerosene lamp base in situ in Trench A

Despite the rain (and the cold) everyone persevered and worked to excavate a wide range of domestic items, including ceramic and glass fragments, black facetted glass buttons, glass and ceramic beads, shell buttons, copper alloy hooks and eyes, thimbles, pins, a lamp base and coins dating variously from 1839, 1860 and the 1870s.  Because the artefact bearing layers were mainly clay, we wet sieved most of Trench A’s deposits, recovering many (many) tiny glass beads, some so small that they lodged in the 2mm mesh of the smallest sieves.

A carved bone artefact from ... you guessed it ... Trench A. Is it part of a tambour hook, a crochet hook, a lace making bobbin, or something else?

Some of the most interesting items in terms of our original goal were the 20 or so slate pencils, most of which were recovered from Trench A (the single one that was recovered from Trench B towards the very end of the excavations prompted cheering), along with small fragments of possible writing slate.

We didn’t find the location of the stables building (the concensus by the end of the week was that it was most likely located in the one third of the block that we didn’t excavate), but the high number of slate pencils does suggest a schooling function for the site.  Slate fragments, slate pencils (sometimes wax, graphite and steatite pencils as well), buttons, pins, marbles and stoneware ink bottles are all common finds on school house sites in the US (see papers in Beisaw and Gibb 2009 The Archaeology of Institutional Life), as well as Australia.  They are also found on ordinary domestic (house) sites as well, although in fewer numbers.  William McDonald also ran a school at Penola, however, so we can’t be certain yet whether these items relate to Mary MacKillop’s time there or not.

Shaun Adams being interviewed by James Wakelin from TEN News

The Team:  Shaun Adams, Rhiannon Agutter, Susan Arthure, Angeline Buckler, Cherrie Delieuen, Samantha Fidge, Rikke Hammer, Mark Hoey, Sarah Hutchinson, Scott Jacob, Clare Leevers, Sarah Nahabedian, Vanessa Orange, Rachel Power, Hayley Prentice and Chantal Wight.

You can see the TEN and Nine network television news coverage of the excavations (including interviews with Clare, Shaun and Sister Chris) here.

Sister Chris in action in Trench A (hat courtesy of Shaun Adams)

We would like to thank the wonderful Penola community for their support of the project (especially Tony for loaning us his shed and Sisters Chris and Mary from the Sisters of St Joseph for their wonderful hand-made morning teas and lunches) and for visiting us on site.  The ladies at the Mary MacKillop Interpretive Centre gave us a fabulous dinner on Thursday night, complete with entertainment and a tour of the St Joseph’s school house and centre.  Andy, Darren and Bear at Whiskas Woolshed gave us a four course farewell dinner on the last night.  Thanks also to Andy for organising the impromptu tour of Yallum Park so that we could meet his dad and marvel at his magnificent house.

Community based research at the Marranggung burial ground, Tailem Bend

By Michael Diplock, Associate Lecturer in Archaeology

On the 11 & 12 June this year a small group of students & staff from the Archaeology Department at Flinders were treated to a special weekend alongside the majestic (& very healthy looking) Murray River at Maranggung near Tailem Bend. We had been invited to share some of our survey and geophysics skills in a joint project involving members of Karpinyeri  Inc, Assoc. from Tailem Bend SA.

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