Christchurch earthquake

Finding Fantastically Fancy Things in Urban Christchurch, New Zealand.

Here in Christchurch, we have the rare opportunity of being able to uncover a large proportion of the archaeology that lies beneath our city over a very short period of time. The devastating earthquakes that occurred in 2010 and 2011 caused structural damage to many properties in the Christchurch Central City and surrounds, and Underground Overground Archaeology has been on the front lines recording our city’s heritage since the occurrence of these tragic events. Christchurch has been inhabited by European settlers since 1850 and long before this time by Maori (the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand), and we are constantly finding archaeological evidence pertaining to the daily lives of our Maori and European colonial ancestors during the repair and reconstruction of our buildings and infrastructure.

 

On previous Days Of Archaeology, we’ve offered a glimpse into our individual daily archaeological tasks and the best and brightest of our archaeological escapades can be found on our company blog and Facebook page. But for today’s celebrations, we thought we’d do something a little different and go for a more in-depth look at one of our central city construction sites, particularly the journey of how a single artefact is processed – from initial onsite discovery through to storage.

 

In the shadow of our city’s landmark (Christchurch Cathedral – which is currently looking worse for wear), the Christchurch Convention Centre construction project will soon erect a shiny new hub of activity in the central city. The site on which the center is being built was once the location of not one, but two consecutively occupied fancy goods stores, which carried luxury commodities imported from the European continent.

 

At the Convention Centre site, Angel (one of our archaeologists), monitors the excavation of a 19th century well, as it’s carefully uncovered by a mechanical excavator. Christchurch Cathedral is visible in the background. Photo: Hamish Williams.

 

Very carefully uncovered! Photo: Angel Trendafilov.

 

These things are often a two-man job! Photo: Hamish Williams.

 

The site of these luxury goods stores offers an exceptional chance to get a taste of how the upper-crust of Christchurch can been seen through their material culture. Disastrously for the proprietors (but opportunistic for us), the second store (Messrs. A. Dallas And Co. Auctioneers), suffered extensive stock loss during a fire in 1885. Much of their fire and water damaged stock was sold cheaply, the remainder was thrown out (probably on site), and the building was subsequently torn down. This kind of onsite refuse disposal was common in 19th century Christchurch, despite implementation of first council rubbish collection service in the 1860s! Go figure! An advertisement in a local newspaper describes some of the stock that was sold at auction, the most amusing, albeit confusing, of which is listed as “handsome walnut whatnots”. In any case, there seems to have been many a bargain to be had on auction day.

The auction listing from an 1885 issue of the Press newspaper. Image: Press 1885.

 

Fancy some fancy finds? Photo: Angel Trendafilov.

 

One particularly exciting find was this glass vase which you can see Angel uncovering in a rubbish pit.

 

Glass vase being carefully excavated in the foreground. Archaeologist sold separately. Photo: Hamish Williams.

 

Up close and personal: Photo: Angel Trendafilov.

 

Having carefully removed the many fragments of this vessel from the in situ rubbish deposit, Angel transported the material from the site in bags labelled with the location and stratigraphic layer details (provenance), describing where it was found on the site. On arrival to the Underground Overground Archaeology laboratory, dirt was carefully removed with a brush, as to not unwittingly eliminate any of the fine gilt decoration on the body of the vase.

 

Bringing back the lustre of the dirty artefact. Photo: Jessie Garland.

 

Now for the fun part of every artefact analyst’s day! This artefact came back from site in over a hundred fragments – so, to determine what shape and form it originally took, we had to piece it back together, a bit like a three-dimensional historical jigsaw puzzle. Check out how we did it… Note – reconstruction took a lot longer in real life. If only it were this easy!

 

Piece by glorious piece!

 

Having pieced this unusual beauty back together, our artefact expert determined that it was a decorative pedestal vase, like the one featured below. Figuring out exactly what it was took a combination of guesswork, random Google searches, flipping through all of the books of the shelf, a lucky break and a tiny bit of actual expertise… It’s not as easy as you might think to figure out the specific name for something when you only know what it looks like – on top of which, as it turns out, people didn’t use the same names for things in the 19th century as they do now (not that we’re complaining – that moment when you do actually find the thing you’re looking for is one of the best parts of the job!).

 

Our research determined that these lustre vases were primarily used as mantle and table decorations, and had hanging cut glass prisms which would have sparkled in the sunshine. Those with one row of prisms were more common, while the double hung prisms were rarer and usually costlier (meaning, that ours was fancy enough for a fancy goods store, but maybe not so fancy) As far as we know, no example of a vase like this has ever been found at an 19th century archaeological site in Christchurch, so this ‘handsome’ piece would definitely have fancied-up any Victorian reception room! The smoking gun in the identification of this vessel type was the tiny drilled holes in the glass and the associated copper hooks from which these prisms would have hung.

 

A fragment of the vase showing copper hooks. Photo: Chelsea Dickson

 

Lusters are believed to have first been produced in the British Isles and New England, and many varieties of colour and design existed in this artefact form. Red glass is thought to have been the most popular shade, making our clear glass example slightly rarer. The aesthetically pleasing nature and the variation in this artefact form makes them popular among collectors, and it has been said that it was considered the height of elegant living to own at least one pair of lusters during the Victorian era.

 

Left: our fragmented, but reconstructed vase. Right: a complete example of a similar style pedestal vase, otherwise known as a mantle lustre. Photo: Jessie Garland.

 

Having identified the artefact, one of our analysts, Jessie, catalogued and photographed the vessel, then stored it safely in acid-free tissue paper to protect the delicate gilt decoration. We often find gilt decorated ceramic vessels in our 19th century artefact assemblages, but it is less commonly seen on glassware, as the gilt doesn’t preserve as well on the smoother glass surfaces.

 

Jessie doing her artefact analysis thing! Note: our desks are messy because we are SO busy! Photo: Chelsea Dickson.

 

Lastly, storage! Our artefacts are boxed up, labelled and stored, until our associated archaeological reports are accepted by the governing heritage body in New Zealand (Heritage New Zealand). When we are given the go ahead, we can then find a new home for the artefacts, be that with the landowner, in a museum or research facility. Our clients also receive a copy of our archaeological reports so they can better understand the fantastic history of their sections of land, and these reports can also be made available to the public upon request to Heritage New Zealand.

 

Just some of the many, MANY, artefact boxes!

 

These boxes contain a couple more interesting Convention Centre artefacts that might tickle your fancy! Photo: Jessie Garland.

 

We hope you’ve enjoyed our fancy, fun-filled archaeology day as much as we have! Until next year!

 

Archaeology in the Red-Zone: post earthquake management in Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ

Working as an archaeologist following a natural disaster really makes you consider priorities in life as well as heritage management. I came to work at the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) following the Canterbury earthquakes. I work as the Assistant Archaeologist and Researcher in a fixed term role established to support earthquake recovery work.

I hadn’t been living in Christchurch long when the earthquakes struck – a 7.1 quake on 4 September 2010 which caused widespread damage and two serious injuries and a 6.3 quake which hit at 12:51pm on 22 February 2011 causing severe damage and the loss of 185 lives – and there have been over 10 000 aftershocks since. From my personal experience I would have to argue that natural disasters really do seem to result in a flight or fight response. However, despite not being a Christchurch resident long, I now feel an even stronger connection with this place and really want to contribute to the rebuilding of the city and people’s lives.

Looking down Manchester Street, Christchurch CBD after the February 22 earthquake [Dave Margetts, NZHPT, 2 March 2011]

Looking down Manchester Street, Christchurch CBD after the February 22 earthquake [Dave Margetts, NZHPT, 2 March 2011]

Damage to Odean Theatre (NZHPT Register No. 3140). This theatre was constructed in 1883 and is an archaeological site as defined by the Historic Places Act. It is the oldest masonry theatre in New Zealand. [Dave Margetts, NZHPT, 26 September 2012]

Damage to Odean Theatre (NZHPT Register No. 3140). This theatre was constructed in 1883 and is an archaeological site as defined by the Historic Places Act. It is the oldest masonry theatre in New Zealand. [Dave Margetts, NZHPT, 26 September 2012]

During the earthquakes widespread damage occurred to buildings and structures, with disruption to water, power and sewerage services. Many buildings are being demolished and earthworks are needed everywhere to remove building foundations, clear sites and repair infrastructure – over 300 kilometres of sewer pipes and 895 kilometres of road were damaged. The government is in the process of acquiring and clearing over 6000 residential properties in what is called the ‘Residential Red Zone’ in the worst hit areas so that residents have the option of moving on. Land in the Christchurch CBD, also one of the worst effected areas, is also being tagged for acquisition to redevelop the city centre. At the moment there are many empty parking spaces which will be rebuilt on in time.

As places of pre-1900 human activity some of these structures and properties, where damage occurred, are considered to be archaeological sites under New Zealand legislation. In New Zealand the Historic Places Act directs that an archaeological authority is required to destroy, damage or modify an archaeological site. As a Crown entity and as New Zealand’s leading historic heritage agency one of NZHPT’s jobs is to administer the archaeological authority process and carry out compliance to ensure that archaeological sites are protected or preserved via record. This has obviously proved challenging following a natural disaster where the priorities are rightly lives, safety and recovery. Funnily enough archaeology has not been the first thing on everyone’s minds. A streamlined authority process has been developed so that applicants can now expect decisions to destroy, damage or modify an archaeological site within 3 working days or 5 if the site is of Maori interest. Archaeological sites in Christchurch mostly relate to Maori (New Zealand’s indigenous population) occupation and the more recent European settlement of the area from the mid-nineteenth century. Shell middens, historic rubbish dumps, brick barrel drains and buildings, amongst other things, are all being recorded by archaeologists before they are destroyed.

A site visit to New Brighton with the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) to understand the extent of excavations required for repairing sewer systems. NZHPT Regional Archaeologist and myself in yellow high vis.  [Huia Pacey, NZHPT, 9 July 2013]

A site visit to New Brighton with the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) to understand the extent of excavations required for repairing sewer systems. NZHPT Regional Archaeologist and myself in yellow high vis. [Huia Pacey, NZHPT, 9 July 2013]

A large chunk of my job at the moment is to undertake desktop assessment and research of properties to ascertain whether an archaeological authority is required. Insurance companies, project managers, demolition companies and CERA (the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority who have been set up by the Government to coordinate the ongoing recovery effort following the earthquakes) all send me lists of properties to check everyday resulting in about 200 a week to check. While we have a national database of recorded archaeological sites and a good understanding of where pre-1900 occupation occurred many of these areas have not been subject to archaeological assessments or investigation before. So my research is designed to fill this gap and identify unrecorded sites. The opportunity to research properties and find out more about patterns of settlement in Christchurch is fascinating. However every now and again reality hits that for each property that comes across my desk a family has lost their home or a business has lost their premises following the earthquakes.

My workspace at the NZHPT Southern Regional Office. Our office was displaced from the CBD following the earthquakes and now operates from the outskirts of the city. [Frank van der Heijden, NZHPT, 29 July 2013]

My workspace at the NZHPT Southern Regional Office. Our office was displaced from the CBD following the earthquakes and now operates from the outskirts of the city. [Frank van der Heijden, NZHPT, 29 July 2013]

I also assist the Regional Archaeologist (also the Canterbury Archaeological Officer following the earthquakes) in processing authorities, assessing archaeological management plans, assessing archaeological reports and following up on site damage and compliance with the conditions of archaeological authorities. The volume of work post-quake means I don’t get much time outside anymore and when I do it is mostly to ensure that the conditions of our authorities are being complied with.

The things that keep me sane through all of this administration and earthquakes are opportunities to tell our stories – both past and present. I am interested in telling the stories of life in Christchurch through time and the story of managing archaeology following a disaster. One of my jobs is to catalogue and submit archaeological reports to the University of Canterbury’s CEISMIC Digital Archive called Quake Studies. My colleagues and I have also facilitated sharing of archaeological information and artefacts in public programmes such as Canterbury Museum’s Quake City exhibition and the CBD Rebuild tour. Hopefully we can learn from the settlement of our swampy city and previous building techniques to ensure that a disaster of this type doesn’t happen again. The scale of archaeological work in Christchurch is greater than it has ever been and the scale of earthworks required for redevelopment means in many areas this will be the last opportunity we have to examine the material remains of our past. It is important to keep talking about our past and remembering what was.