Another day, another site: urban archaeology in Christchurch, New Zealand

It’s been over five years now since the earthquakes that devastated the city of Christchurch in New Zealand. Over those years the city has steadily worked its way through the aftermath of the quakes, dealing with lost lives, emotional upheaval, broken houses and businesses, damaged infrastructure and roads that resemble river beds more than city streets. As Christchurch slowly rebuilds itself, we – the archaeologists – have been working to make sure that the physical heritage of the city is not completely lost. We record and investigate 19th century buildings, sites of Maori occupation and early European settlement, the early drainage and roading infrastructure of a colonial city, and the material culture with which the people of Christchurch’s past constructed their world.

Last year, we wrote a post showcasing the various aspects of urban archaeological work in Christchurch, from buildings archaeology to artefact finds and the tedious but necessary tasks of report writing and paperwork. A year later, in truth, not much has changed. Day to day, we still do all of the same things, carry out all the same tasks and steps to make sure that Christchurch’s archaeological record – and the historical identity that goes with it – is preserved for future generations. If anything has changed, honestly, it’s not the process but the focus of the work, a reflection of where the city finds itself five and a half years after the most devastating of the earthquakes. There’s less demolition now and more rebuilding. Fewer crumbling structures to be dealt with, but more empty lots on city streets. From an archaeological perspective, this translates to more analysis, historical research and report writing, as we consolidate the information that we’ve gathered over the last five years, while keeping on top of the site work that just doesn’t seem to stop! Sometimes it’s exciting, sometimes it’s frenetic, sometimes it’s tedious and sometimes we require a whole lot of baking to get us through the day, but it’s worth it to make sure that the story told by Christchurch’s archaeology isn’t forgotten.

Here’s how our Day of Archaeology played out…

We began with a bunch of archaeologically themed food. Because we're cool like that.

We began with a bunch of archaeologically themed food. Because we’re cool like that. Also, we get hungry. Image: J. Garland.

 

Some of our team spent the morning at Archives New Zealand, where beautiful old books and records reside, doing their own bit of historical sleuthing. Our appraisalists assess the archaeological potential of sites in Christchurch according to the New Zealand legislation, which governs the modiciation or desctruction of pre-1900 archaeological sites.

Some of our team spent the morning at Archives New Zealand, where beautiful old books and records reside, doing their own bit of historical sleuthing. Image: A. Gibson.

 

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Our appraisalists assess the archaeological potential of sites in Christchurch according to New Zealand’s legislation, which protects sites of pre-1900 activity throughout the country. Like so many archaeological jobs, it’s often heavy on research and detail, but there’s nothing like finally figuring out the mystery of a site or the people who lived there. The odd account of scandalous goings on doesn’t hurt either. Image: A. Gibson.

 

Meanwhile, out on site, at least one of our field archaeologists was deep in concentration. I'd like to say that we're concentrating this hard all the time, but I'd be lying.

Meanwhile, out on site, at least one of our field archaeologists was deep in concentration. I’d like to say that we’re all concentrating this hard all the time, but I’d be lying. Image: T. Wadsworth.

 

It really was a beautiful day for archaeology in Christchurch though. Stunning.

It really was a beautiful day for archaeology in Christchurch though. Stunning. Image: T. Anderson.

Even if we weren’t finding anything. Nothing. Nothing at all…

Back in the office, some of us spent the afternoon refitting saucers.

And teapots.

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Image: J. Garland.

 

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Others gave their best impression of diligent and hardworking archaeologists, writing reports, creating digital illustrations and site plans and researching site histories. Image: J. Garland.

 

Others are stuck in the lab photographing artefacts, a tedious but important task.

Some were stuck in the lab photographing artefacts, a tedious but important task. Image: J. Garland

 

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And some of us were finding cool things in artefact assemblages. This is the bone mouthpiece from a tobacco pipe, possibly a meerschaum (a carved pipe). Image: J. Garland.

 

By the end of the day, a s

By the end of the day, as it turns out, all that hard work and diligence still didn’t give us enough of an appetite to get through all the food we made. Honestly, I’m still trying to get through the biscuits. Image: J. Garland.

Not every day is like this (not every day involves this much food, for one). Sometimes our days are more exciting – sometimes we find great things on sites, sometimes we’re out and about creating exhibitions and communicating Christchurch’s histories, sometimes we get to go out and survey and excavate in stunning scenery. Sometimes, we even get to ride about in helicopters (well, the lucky ones do…). Other times, our days are more boring – a whole office of archaeologists working in silence, doing the dull things that still need to be done. There’s always variety, though, and we’re always working towards the same goal – recording and retaining Christchurch’s archaeological record for future generations. Telling stories of the city that was, so we can better understand the city that is and the city that will be.

 – Jessie Garland