After a couple of weeks off from the blog, we thought it’d be a good idea to give you a run-down of what we learnt at French Farm. These are preliminary observations only, and could well change as we do more research! In no particular order, here you are.
None of the artefacts we found could be readily identified as French. This doesn’t mean that they weren’t used by the early French occupants of the house, but it does make it difficult to prove. Further, at first glance, none of the artefacts found seemed to date from the 1840s and/or 1850s. Again, this doesn’t mean they weren’t used during the period – many common 19th century artefacts were made for long periods of time.
Even though we didn’t find anything particularly ‘French’ in the way of artefacts, the house itself is clearly not English in origin. It’s the layout that’s the real give away. It’s just so different from the standard central hall with rooms opening off it that we usually see in Christchurch. French Farm house is at least 30 years older than most of the houses we’ve looked at in the city, but even those 1850s houses we’ve recorded still have a central hall – which, when you think about it, is a bit of a waste of space really (and something we’ve moved away from in more recent times). And once you take out the central hall, everything else changes, including the house footprint - French Farm is significantly longer than it is wide. It also changes the flow of people through rooms, meaning you have to pass through one room to get to another – not the case in a house with a central hall. Maybe the logical extension of this is less privacy?
The last thing that I learnt is that archaeology is fun! Maybe this seems a silly thing to say. But most of our work takes place on construction sites, surrounded by large diggers and other construction chaos, and – more often than not – we don’t find anything of note. For me personally, I spend most of my time sitting behind a desk, not doing any field archaeology. In either of these circumstances, it’s easy to forget how fascinating and enjoyable the process of simply digging or recording is. It's also easy to lose sight of the fact that archaeology is all about learning more about the past, rather than simply recovering information for the sake of it.
* With thanks to Stephen Cashmore and David Brailsford for insightful conversations on site.