Tag Archives: Historical Archaeology

ArchSoc’s Trip to Port Arthur

A few weeks have passed since the Flinders Archaeological Society (ArchSoc) sent six of our members and two of our committee to help the Port Arthur Historic Sites Management Authority (PAHSMA) with their artefact collection from the 2011 Hobart Penitentiary Chapel excavations.

From left to right- Back: David Roe, Jeanne Harris, Tom Lally, Ilona Bartsch, Maxim Ayres and Louisa Fischer. Front: Andrew Wilkinson, Leah Ralph, Annita Waghorn, Lauren Davison and Holly Winter.

As you can see from the blog entries that the participants wrote at the end of each day, everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot. This is the first time ArchSoc has organised a field trip like this and it is a testament to the dedication and organisation of this year’s committee that the trip went off without a hitch.

On behalf of ArchSoc, I would like to thank those that helped make this trip possible from the onset. Thanks go to Claire Smith, whose networking made this possible, Natalie Bittner, who along with myself, conducted the initial consultations with PAHSMA, and to David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA, who were both more than happy to host several student volunteers.

BBQ in the Plaza @ Flinders

I would also like to thank those that helped in the planning stages and those that helped us in our more-than-successful fundraising BBQ and Bake Sale including the ArchSoc Committee and staff from the Department of Archaeology. There are too many individuals to name, but you all know who you are.

Thanks to everyone that applied to go on this trip, sorry we couldn’t accommodate all of you and to Andrew Wilkinson and Tom Lally who co-ordinated the trip at short notice when it was clear that I could no longer attend.

Lastly, a very big thank you goes to Jeanne Harris, David Roe and Annita Waghorn from PAHSMA for hosting ArchSoc on what was a very successful trip. We hope this is the start of a long relationship.

Bake Sale in the Humanities Courtyard

The professionalism of our committee and participants is highlighted in an email that David Roe sent to me shortly after the trip:

“From our perspective the week was a great success: we were able to get a number of important fieldwork jobs done and a significant hole has been made in the cataloguing task for the Penitentiary Chapel assemblage.  Jeanne, Annita and I were impressed with the Flinders contingent: they worked hard and were a pleasure to have around.  Their enthusiasm and conduct reflects most admirably upon the Flinders ArchSoc in particular and the University in general.  Please accept our thanks for having organised and underwritten the trip; we look forward to more such visits in the future.”

Again, thanks to all involved!

Jordan Ralph

President, Flinders Archaeological Society

Sorting artefacts in the Port Arthur lab

This post originally featured on ArchSoc’s blog @ www.flindersarchsoc.com

Walking… and a little bit of archaeology

Surveying for Shipwrecked Mariner Graves off Loch Sloy, Kangaroo Island, SA

By Maddy Fowler and Cassandra Morris

On the 27th March, Kyle Lent, Cassandra Morris and Maddy Fowler, maritime archaeology students at Flinders University, embarked on the Sealink Ferry to Kangaroo Island to participate in the 2012 survey of historic shipwreck burial sites lead by Amer Khan from the Department for Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). This project involved conducting an archaeological survey to investigate possible locations of the burials of twelve bodies recovered from the sea following the wreck of Loch Sloy. The vessel was bound for Port Adelaide when it wrecked north of Cape de Couedic in the early morning of 24th April 1899. The location of the remains of the shipwreck is at present unknown.

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COMMUNICATING ARCHAEOLOGY: CREATING INTERPRETIVE POSTERS

By Rikke Hammer (Master of Cultural Heritage Management student)

One component of my industry practicum with PhD student Adam Paterson involved producing interpretive materials for a public archaeology event held during the Port Festival on November 8 and 9 2011.  Applying the principles of tiered communication and interactive presentation, I conceptionalized and designed two posters and one children’s activity brochure for use at the event.

HOW DO ARCHAEOLOGISTS READ THE SOIL ?

The first poster I created was to accompany and supplement a life size reconstruction of a section of the 2003 Port Adelaide Jane Street excavation trench. The poster had two main aims. First, to provide a brief introduction to the stratigraphic principles and methods used by archaeologists to decipher the past; and second, to engage the visitor by stimulating thoughts and questions about the depositional events that formed the Jane Street site over time and how identifying these events is critical to understanding the site’s history.

The poster makes use of the strong base colours of orange and cobalt blue and a lighter grey for eye-catching contrast. In addition, headlines in italic typeface and different sized text were used as attention grabbers. The main focus of the poster is a large scale photograph of a section of the Jane Street trench that largely corresponds to the area represented by the reconstructed section profile. Dashed lines and text describe the stratigraphy of the section, while the orange column to the right explains the law of superposition and asks questions that engage and demonstrate to the visitor how archaeologists read the soil to infer information about the past. The poster can stand on its own without further explanation or it can be used as supplementary information to the reconstructed section profile.

At the Port Festival event in Port Adelaide both the poster and the brochure operated at a further interpretive level, as the location of the public archaeology stand was at the site of the 2003 Jane Street excavation trench. Visitors were therefore able to directly relate the information from the interpretive materials to the buried landscape beneath their feet, thereby making the information more relevant to their here-and-now experience and contributing to a greater sense of place.

WHAT IS ARCHAEOLOGY?

The popular perception of archaeology is often linked with the recovery of megafaunal remains or influenced by media portrayals, such as the action-packed adventures and mysteries of ‘Indiana Jones’ and one-sided documentaries about golden treasures and lost civilizations.  Another common, but too narrow, understanding of archaeology is that of excavation and of the archaeologist as an excavator.  This issue was addressed with the second poster titled: “What is archaeology?”.

The conceptualization of the poster was loosely inspired by previous work by myself in a non-archaeological context and by the interpretive signage strategy at the Kings Reach tobacco plantation site in Maryland, USA.  Also key to the design are the principles of tiered communication.

The three base colours, blue, orange and gray, used in the stratigraphy poster above were carried through to the ‘What is archaeology’ poster for aesthetic coherence. The interpretive content centers around six themes that convey archaeology as a logical process from the discovery of sites and objects through to their management. The integrated use of imagery, text and colour coding to convey the message was critical to the design philosophy of the poster.  Each theme was assigned a colour for ease of navigation around the poster.  For example, all information (pictorial or text) pertaining to the theme of fieldwork were indicated by the colour blue. The visitor then has two choices: to experience the story of each theme in pictures, horizontally, or to obtain more detailed information via the text. By colour coding the themes visitors are able to easily and selectively extract the level and depth of information they require for each theme.

The Jane Street archaeology stand at the Port Festival also displayed posters that informed visitors of the 2003 Jane Street excavation and about how artefacts recovered at the site have contributed a better understanding of the working class value of ‘respectability’ in the Port during the 19th century.  These posters were produced by Adam Paterson. In addition, the ‘Take the Plunge’ team drew  attention to their cause to get Australia to ratify  the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage through the display of a poster on the subject.

What’s the value of contract archaeology?

By Helen Cronin, Master of Archaeology student. You can also read more of Helen’s work at her personal blog.

Portuguese archaeologist Leonor Medeiros’s contribution to the Day of Archaeology 2011 project was a lament.

I still feel tormented by the fact that, after you dig a site, and discover so much about it, that information is going to only a few people, and most of the sites are left to be destroyed or abandoned.

Her words echo my own feelings. The temporary exhibition I am working on as  an intern will show Bendigo residents what was happening behind the fence two years ago before a new office building was constructed. But it is an unusual case. The archaeology associated with most development sites in Australia goes exactly the same way as Medeiros’s Portuguese sites. The consultant archaeologists write a report and hand it over to the developer or land owner. The artefacts disappear into a warehouse. The local paper might have carried a couple of stories about the excavation while it was happening, but that’s about it.

Archaeology for the sake of it

Why do we bother? It seems a pointless exercise to investigate archaeological sites simply for the sake of it. The Victorian Heritage Act 1995 (which does not apply to Aboriginal cultural heritage) only states that its purpose is:

to provide for the protection and conservation of places and objects of cultural heritage significance and the registration of such places and objects

It is not in the nature of legislation to question its own existence, but to what end are we protecting and conserving cultural heritage if no-one knows about it? Why excavate a site if the locals who would be most interested by dint of their connections to the place never hear the story of the site? What is the point of heritage if it doesn’t contribute to people’s sense of themselves as a part of a place because they know more of its history.

Contract archaeology is driven by funding imperatives. The developer funds the excavation reluctantly; the archaeologist must get the work done in a limited time frame and has no budget for the niceties of interpretation for a non-specialist audience. But just for a moment, put aside all those funding and resource constraints and imagine what archaeology with a purpose beyond fulfilling legislative requirements might look like.

Children working in an archaeological trench with a father leaning over the edge looking on.

Both kids and adults are fascinated by archaeology as the Port Arthur Kids Dig program demonstrates. Photo A. Kinsela

Imagine

  • There would be real community involvement.
    Instead of peering through a cyclone wire fence as they walk past, people could volunteer to help – anyone from primary school kids to retirees. People are fascinated by archaeology. Getting your hands dirty is a great way to connect with your local history. And connecting with your local history generally means you’re more willing and interested in protecting and conserving it because it means something to you. (See the Council for British Archaeology, which welcomes volunteers, for example.)
  • There would be broader and more direct communications.
    Podcasts from the archaeologists, blog entries, Facebook pages, YouTube posts, Tweets, a display at the library or council offices. This would give a much better sense of how archaeology is done and how stories emerge and change as the work goes on.
  • The reports would contain at least a summary targetted at a non-specialist audience and copies would be lodged with the local library. (See Tales of the Vasco, for example which was part of a final report and tells stories about the site based on the archaeological evidence.)

Yes, it’s probably fanciful. But nothing really changes if you don’t have a vision first, does it?

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 (http://www.visitmarymackillop.com.au/where-it-all-began-penola.html), 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.