The Willow Court Archaeo-Prank or ‘Mysterious Happenings at Willow Court’

By Sasha Jessop, History and Humanities Teacher Educator, Australian Catholic University

It was really exciting to be a participant at the UTas Archaeology for Teachers ‘Dirty Weekend’. I’m glad to be able to share one of the more memorable experiences from the weekend.

We learned a great deal, and some of the learning was rather unexpected, such as the importance of humour on a dig.

Day one, after deliberation and measuring, we got stuck into pegging out the trench. It was a high stakes event, testing all of our mathematical skills and ancient memory of Pythagoras’ theorem in action. Still, not a bad effort for beginners – a 3×3 metre trench pegged out in under an hour.

So when we arrived in the morning we were excited to see the pristine square ready and waiting to be dug. But, what’s that?… what’s happened to the builder’s line?
The square is there: check
Pegs in place: check
Spool, and the remainder of the line next to the trench: No!
The line from the last peg continued beyond the trench, up off the ground and towards the hedge. My first thought was that the wind had picked up the spool and run it along the ground and out into the space beyond. And my next thought was … Or was it some clever Archeo-Prank? (I think this is my own term but I’m not sure, as I get the feeling pranks might be a ‘thing’ with archaeology.)

Expecting to see the spool in a knotty mess beyond the hedge, I was surprised to see, as I emerged from the gap into the dazzling early morning light, the line continuing neatly along the hedgerow. Argument for Archeo-Prank gathers momentum. When I noticed it had actually been wrapped around the nearest tree, and then around another several metres beyond, I started to laugh: the line continued. Calling Mel over to share the giggle, we decided a well meaning wag had definitely decided to pull some witty gag on us. Vandals surely would have kicked out our pegs or stuffed up the lines. The next several minutes were spent in a tracing the line around three more trees, across a road and around an electrical box before terminating at a large tree near the main road. They had taken great care to loop each junction neatly and zigzag around a range of obstacles.

At the final tree I found the spool, neatly placed near the base, with a lovely, neat bowline knot to finish, meaning the line didn’t even need to be cut. Effort had been made.

Archaeo-Prankster leaves the spool behind

But by whom??
We quizzed our colleagues – what time did you leave the pub last night? Did you go straight home? No, wasn’t them. Stories corroborated. It must have been the Flinders archaeologists, having a gentle joke with us Baby Archaeological Rookies. I asked Heather Burke, but no, not her or any of her crew. I think she was quite amused at the suggestion she was involved, or maybe she just wished she had been. I was really sure Sarah L and Sasha Seal had been involved, but after some intense interrogations they, too, were cleared.

So, the mystery persists. Who dunnit? Who would have had the brains and the time to perform such a non-destructive, archeologically hilarious joke? New Norfolk must have some local jokester who roams around looking for easy targets.

Or was it some benevolent spirit of place who used to inhabit the site we were excavating? We will have to ask the ghost tour operators to keep and eye out for a spectre, carrying a spool of orange builder’s line, marking off trees under the moonlight.

Respect, Archaeo-Prankster

Trench F05 on completion of excavation

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