Category Archives: Posts from the field

Posts about fieldwork

Baby Killing

By Liam Blines, Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management Student

Cataloguing the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia South Australian branch collection has been a great learning opportunity for me. Each stage to date of this project has proved beneficial and, with limited prior cataloguing experience, this project has enabled me to test and develop the skills gained from my undergraduate degree. While yet to complete this project, I already feel a sense of pride due to my small contribution to the cultural heritage record.

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup

One item in particular caught my eye while removing and sorting objects from one of the initial storage boxes: a stopper-less glass bottle embossed with Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, as shown in the above photo. I am still unsure what exactly drew my attention to this bottle, but I found myself eager to research the bottle and its seemingly innocent ‘soothing syrup’ contents.

I was surprised by the volume of information available.  This ‘soothing syrup’ was a medicinal product created by Mrs. Charlotte N. Winslow, a physician and nurse who had worked with children for nearly 30 years. In 1807, Mrs. Winslow created the soothing syrup to ease the restlessness of her children, particularly when her infant daughters were suffering from painful teething issues.

Mrs. Winslow later gave the syrup’s recipe to her son-in-law, Jeremiah Curtis, and his business partner, Benjamin A Perkins, druggists trading as Curtis & Perkins Co of Maine, USA. This company actively marketed Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup to North America and the British Commonwealth, placing highly maternal illustrations in recipe books, on trading cards and in calendars. 

Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Children Teething advertisement in 1885 (Canet and Castillo 2012:6-8)

The syrup’s formula consisted of morphine sulphate (related to heroin), aqua ammonia (a cleaning agent), sodium carbonate (a water softener) and spirits foeniculi (an alcohol specific to this syrup).  Initially, the soothing syrup contained 65mg of morphine per fluid ounce, but, following implementation of regulations in the early twentieth century, this amount was significantly reduced to 26mg in 1911 and finally totally removed from the formula in 1915.

In 1911, the American Medical Association published an article in its publication Nostrums and Quackery, in which they incriminated Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup by reporting it as a “baby killer”, based on claims the syrup was responsible for causing the deaths of young children.  Surprisingly, production continued, with the soothing syrup not withdrawn from sale in the UK until 1930.

Another unusual fact about this product is that a composition was written by the English composer Edward Elga in 1879 entitled ‘Mrs Winslow’s soothing syrup’!

Little did I know that such a plain looking bottle would have such a controversial history.


Canet J. and J. Castillo 2012 Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Anesthesiology 116:6-8.

Society of Historical Archaeology 2016 Bottle Typing/Diagnostic Shapes: Medicinal/Chemical/Druggist Bottles. Retrieved 26 May 2017 from

Establishing Connections

By Liam Blines, Diploma in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management student

At the initial March meeting with Helen Stone, the head of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (South Australia) (PSSA), details were discussed concerning the collection, as well as our mutual objectives for this project. Helen highlighted  a previous attempt at cataloguing the collection during the 1990s, but the associated records are yet to be located:  only photo catalogues have been found. This meeting also included a tour of the PSSA offices, including the two rooms in which the majority of the collection resides. One of the items that Helen showed me was highly significant: the veterinary case used by Sir Douglas Mawson.

This was made in London by the British pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Co. The kit consists of an assortment of medical supplies, including: aspirin, rhubarb compounds, chromatic chalk powder and opium, potassium iodine, tannin, and benzoic acid compound. Additionally, there are poisons, such as boric acid, lead and potassium permanganate.

As part of my future research analysis of this collection, I will be trying to find out whether or not this veterinary case did indeed go on Mawson’s expeditions to Antarctica. If this case did return from Antarctica it is a remarkable feat and would make it even more important. The details concerning how the veterinary case came into the PSA’s possession are yet to be determined.

Other important items Helen showed me were some books, one of which – the Bibliothece Pharmaceutico Medica­­ – is over 300 years old and was written by Swiss physician Johannes Jacobi Mangeti (or Jean Jacques Manget) in 1704 and published in Geneva, Switzerland by Chouet, G. De Tournes, Cramer, Perachon, Ritter, & S. De Tournes. This book is one of two volumes; this volume focusses on pharmaceutical remedies and plants used for medical purposes. Additional information concerning how any of the books became part of the collection is yet to be determined, but I am hoping to locate donor documents to assist with identifying this information.

On completion of the tour, Helen and I discussed the project at length and our respective hopes and aspirations for the outcome of the cataloguing project.  During this discussion, I outlined to Helen the necessary processes that I intended to undertake to ensure comprehensive work was conducted, including Excel-based data recording, high quality photography and tag labelling of each item. It was during this exchange that Helen and I discovered that her father, Dr Bob Stone, who also works at Flinders University, had previously tutored me in a couple of my undergraduate classes.

Prior to the meeting’s conclusion, Helen provided me with some literature on the PSSA and other relevant information, and advised that the PSSA branches in other states also have similar collections with little known in relation to their respective contents.

In cataloguing the maximum number of items possible within the constrained time-frame, I will also be aiming to ensure the work undertaken is thorough, with errors/issues minimised.

Dinner is Served: Bones and Butchery at Willow Court Asylum

by Annabelle Brealey, short course student

Recently, I travelled to a little town in Tasmania called New Norfolk to participate in the Historical Archaeology field school run by Flinders University. The object of our research – Willow Court Asylum, the longest running mental hospital in Australian history. This year the focus of our excavations was on the two oldest remaining buildings: The Barracks, constructed between 1830-1833 and Frescati House, built 1834.

During excavations at The Barracks in Room 12 (circled below) a sizable cache of butchered animal bones was uncovered underneath the floorboards. Due to my experience in the analysis of historical animal remains I was tasked to lead the classification of the recovered bones for cataloguing and analysis purposes.

The location of Room 12 in the Barracks, Willow Court

We identified an overwhelming amount of sheep bones, but some cow, pig and bird remains were also recovered. During the 1800s in early Australia, sheep were the most common stock to hold as they thrived in the harsh Australian climate and could also be exploited for their wool. This abundance meant mutton was very cheap in comparison to beef and pork. The fact that such a large amount of sheep remains were found at Willow Court is not surprising given the funding challenges the institution often faced during its operation.

There were obvious signs of butchery on the bones in the form of saw (Figure 2A), hack (Figure 2B) and cut marks (Figure 2C). There were some reports of a butcher working out of that corner of the Barracks, but unfortunately these accounts are yet to be confirmed through historical documentation and records.

Butchery marks visible on the bones from the Barracks, Willow Court

One thing I  noticed about the butchered remains was that very few of the hind leg bones were recovered, even though there were plenty of bones from forelimbs. The meat taken from the hind limb is of a higher quality than the fore limb cuts, therefore we can assume the patients staying in and around the Barracks were often fed low quality mutton and the better quality cuts were sent elsewhere. I would be very interested in exploring the buildings occupied by high status patients to see if the remains of these better quality meals have been left behind.

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 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

Playing detective from a cross-disciplinary approach- Gold Coast Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum

On the 13th-19th July 2014, I attended the Maritime Archaeology Field Practicum (ARCH8159), based on the Gold Coast, as part of my Masters of Cultural Heritage Management. We had a great deal of detective work trying to work out where the Coolangatta shipwreck (1846) had run aground and whether sections that had been recovered in 1974, were actually the Coolangatta and not a later shipwreck, the Heroine (1897).

Before the field school started, we were given some background reading, which consisted of some newspaper articles and a booklet on the Coolangatta written by the Shoalhaven Historical Society. I found it interesting in the booklet that they stated that:

‘… the captain, crew and prisoners carried what gear they could, and walked along the beach to the pilot station at Amity Point. This was 70 miles (112 kilometres) away, and the journey took them five days. Aboriginals in the area proved to be very friendly, and each evening they provided fish for the shipwrecked men’ (Shoalhaven Historical Society 1982).

With my background being in Indigenous heritage, I was interested to know if there was still any oral history about the Coolangatta wreck, particularly among the Aboriginal people, the Quandamooka people of Stradbroke Island. Amity Point, where the shipwrecked men walked to, is on Stradbroke Island. I emailed Elisabeth Gondwe, who runs the Stradbroke Island Museum to see if there was any information about the shipwreck or if she had heard any information about it in any oral history or through dances from the Quandamooka people. Elisabeth said that nothing came up in the Stradbroke Island Museum search apart from the newspaper articles in Trove that we already had. If I had more time I would have contacted the Quandamooka Elders. I would strongly suggest that anyone undertaking further research to contact them as many of the Quandamooka people have remained on Country and there might just be a wealth of information there on the background of the Coolangatta that no-one has yet researched.

Once on the field school, it became apparent that the material that was salvaged from the recovered wreck in 1974 and that was subsequently moved to the Gold Coast City Council Depot at Tugun, was in a badly preserved state. Added to this, there were no site plans, conservation plans or records of when the wreck was taken from it’s location somewhere on the beach near Coolangatta in 1974. It was clear that there was only a limited amount of information, that we could glean from the poorly preserved timbers in the depot. We had heard of parts of the wreck being turned into monuments and various sculptures and visited what we could, which included a section of the wreck and an anchor on display in two parks on the Southern end of the Sunshine Coast. Again, there were no records to go with these items. This is where the importance of including other disciplines, such as historical research comes in.

A small team of us headed off to the Tweed Heads Historical Society where one of the staff from the Department of Environment and Heritage, Patrick Waterson, commented that there were supposed to be some artefacts from the Coolangatta stored in a condemned building. We were not allowed access to the condemned building; however, with the wonderful assistance of the Historical Society staff, they shared with us information they had gathered on both the Coolangatta and the Heroine. We found a whole lot of newspaper articles and photographs, which we did not have beforehand. The most important breakthrough was a photograph of the Heroine when she was wrecked, photographs of the Coolangatta artefacts in their collection and newspaper articles showing the wreck exposed pre-1974 and some of the chain of the wreck.


Photograph of the Heroine (Photo: Kate Greenwood).


Photograph of the wreck in 1974 (Photo: Kate Greenwood).


We were able to find out and gather a wealth of information just from talking to the historical society volunteers who knew what was in their collection and their previous historical research/ compilation of documents.


The whole team then visited the Bundall Museum. There we found a sculpture made out of new metal and some timber which was said to be from the wreck of the Coolangatta. This enabled us to take wood samples from the timbers. It also allowed some discussion with John Burns (Bundall Museum) and Trevor Winton (Maritime Archaeology Association Western Australia) in regards to geomorphology / environmental history of the Southern end of the Gold Coast (QLD) through analysing their aerial photograph collection.


The team at Bundall Museum (Back row from left: Amelia MacArthur-Lacey (Department of Environment and Heritage QLD), Brad Guadagnin, Dana Gilmore, Peta Fray, Trevor Winton, Bob Nancarrow (Bundall Museum), John Burns (Bundall Museum). Front from left: Lauren Davidson, Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Patrick Waterson (Department of Environment and Heritage) and Kate Greenwood) (Photo: Kate Greenwood).

Whilst undertaking the subsurface surveys on the beach where the wreck was supposed to have washed up on the second last day, I kept thinking, there must be an elderly local who saw the wreck in the 1970s and remembers roughly where it was. On the last day, a write-up in the local paper on our research and subsurface survey came to the attention of a elderly local gentleman called John Hogg. John was driving a bulldozer for mineral mining in the area around fifty years ago and uncovered part of an old shipwreck. He met with some of us near where he said that he had hit the wreck and uncovered it. We asked him some questions and he told us that the ship he uncovered was not on what is now the beach (where we had done the subsurface survey the day before), but was actually close to where the road is. This threw some weight into the argument of whether we were indeed looking at two shipwrecks.


Some of the team undertaking oral history recording (from left: Wendy van Wendy van Duivenvoorde, Patrick Waterson (Department of Environment and Heritage), John Hogg, Jane Austin (Gold Coast City Council) and Peta Fray (Photo: Kate Greenwood).


See, oral history has its problems as it is not seen as flat-out truth; however, it can add value through being another ‘layer’ of information. I really feel that value adding through cross-disciplinary processes, much similar as the famous ‘Time Team’ approach, adds that bit more information, and adds to a layering approaching, or puts together a few more pieces in the puzzle, so much so, that they might just assist in solving the detective story of the Coolangatta. The cross-disciplinary approach on this field school was brilliant, in that we were not just archaeology students but also budding historians who researched documents, oral historians who gathered oral information from the local people and geomorphologists/ environmental scientists who tried to paint the picture of what the landscape looked like previously. I fully believe that working in collaboration with other disciplines and broadening ones own skill-set will greatly add to the field of archaeology as a whole.


Shoalhaven Historical Society 1982, A Shipwreck Gave its Name… the Story of the ‘Coolangatta’, Shoalhaven Historical Society, Nowra.

Dinosaurs are not Archaeology, but what is?


I had tinkered with different ideas for this post, but seeing as it was my first ever blog, where better to look for an idea than my first ever dig! Where I learned (finally) what archaeology really is.


Whenever I reply to the question, “what do you do?” with the answer “archaeology”, I am often met with the same misinformed replies of “dinosaurs’!” or “oh, like Indiana Jones?” As a result I am repeatedly forced to attempt to correct their presumptions. “Archaeology is the study of the human past through the analysis of material remains” I say, paraphrasing dry academic quotations from university textbooks, and, while such phrases have relevance to me, I can see most people’s eyes glaze over at this point.

This left me to wonder, why? To me, archaeology is fascinating and exciting, but I could never seem to translate that into words well enough to convince people. Then I had the opportunity to be part of the Advanced Archaeology Field School. I had the chance to excavate the Magpie Creek Ruin in Sturt Gorge. I had the privilege to pull up my sleeves, get down on my knees and dig. To see history literally coming out of the ground before my very eyes, to sieve artefacts from seemingly innocuous dirt, to turn an overgrown pile of rubble into a near complete horse skeleton! To see firsthand the magic of archaeology.


And then I realized something. The reason I couldn’t fully explain archaeology before this point was because I hadn’t lived it yet. I had read about it, watched it, learned it, but never lived it. Well now I have, and I finally understand why I couldn’t convince others of how amazing archaeology really is. It’s because they haven’t lived it yet either. So, if ever you walk past a dig or know of one in your area, I encourage you to pop along, ask a few questions and see for yourselves just what archaeology is. Who knows, you might love it as much as I do.

An Anchor and Pisces Star: DEWNR Southeast Coast Shipwreck Survey, SA

google earth

Survey Area. Google Earth. Accessed 02/12/14.

Date: 27 November–­4 December 2014

Staff/Volunteers: Amer Khan (DEWNR); Simon Carter (DEWNR); Guy Williams (DEWNR); Anthony Virag (DEWNR); Dr Brad Duncan (NSW Office of Environment and Heritage); Kurt Bennett (Flinders University Volunteer); Daniel Petraccaro (Flinders University Volunteer) and David Hanna (DEWNR).

This is our second blog on the archaeological study of newly identified shipwrecks at Carpenter Rocks in South Australia’s southeast. If you missed out on previous blog on the Hawthorn shipwreck; click here for the link.

Our next site of interest is a reported historic anchor located in Gerloff Bay at Carpenter Rocks. Abalone diver, Bryon Deak reported an anchor and general location to Amer Khan, the state maritime heritage officer. We launched Rapid, DEWNR’s research vessel at Buck’s Bay and anchored near the reported site. Amer and Brad geared up in dive gear on the boat and lead by Byron, they searched for the anchor. There was sadly no anchor identified from the survey. Increasing wind and ocean swells ceased the days dive activity all the team returned safely to Buck’s Bay.

Anthony guiding Brad and Amer who are diving near the possible anchor location. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.


Brad and Amer geared up for diving. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.







Due to the more favourable weather conditions in the afternoon, Anthony, Kurt and Daniel later snorkelled the area. A survey search was undertaken but still no anchor. At the end of the day, the team decided that there was a high possibility the anchor was buried and a metal detector and air probe survey of the area was necessary.


Eagleray swimming in gerloff bay. Photo courtesy of Daniel Petraccaro.

Due to good weather condition, the team decided to revisit gerloff bay. Daniel and Anthony snorkelled to the site location and placed a buoy while Amer and Kurt dived the potential targets. Amer and Kurt used a metal detector along multiple survey lines, but there was no sign of the anchor.

Our next plan was to record the shipwreck of the yacht Pisces Star, located at Cape Banks. The wreck is located 30 metres offshore in a strong tidal zone. We were able to take photos of the vessel, a GPS position and compass bearings. We would have liked to take measurements of the wreck but it was not possible due to the strong swell and the danger of a diver being caught in the strong currents.


Pisces Star near Cape Banks. Photo courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Recording the Pisces Star. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Looking out to the Pisces Star. Photo courtesy of Anthony Virag.

a thhony 4

Cape Banks lighthouse and Pisces Star to the right. Photo Courtesy of Anthony Virag.

Over the next couple of days, we will be recording the Pisces Star, revisiting gerloff bay, and hopefully looking for a wreck at Lake Bonnie.
Stay in tune for more updates.

Kurt Bennett and Daniel Petraccaro

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