From bottle to basement: uncovering a repository of information

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Late in 2014 we were contacted by contractors working on a rebuild project in Christchurch's city centre. It was reported that a number of bottles had been uncovered during routine earthworks and the area cordoned off until our arrival. The bottles themselves were in pristine condition but what was of particular interest was the area in which they were found. Behind us was a mound of dark dirt, strewn with displaced wooden planks and broken bottles. I'll be the first to admit, it wasn't one of the prettiest features I've ever seen and, oh yeah, it was 2 metres below the surface of the city. So, today I'm going to take you on a little ride, a pictorial one as such, down through that ugly mound of dirt, the archaeology involved and the story it told. And so our tale begins...

It began with a phone call one Friday afternoon (when I was already thinking about a cold brew at the closest drinking hole), but it was answered and soon I was joined by fellow archaeologists, decked out in hi-vis vests and mud-caked boots, with WHS trowels in the back pocket ready to work.

PB110003
PB110003

Due to the unknown extent of the feature we established a simple quadrant system to allow us to record any material collected as we removed the debris from the area. This involved removing all the planks of wood that were no longer in situ, along with any large amounts of soil.

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2014-11-21 Beam Placement & Cellar Dig 011
2014-11-21 Beam Placement & Cellar Dig 011

Once the area was cleared of all debris, we set out to define the full extent of the feature, which was beginning to look a lot like a floor. Three trenches were dug, along the western, southern and eastern sides of the feature (the northern side had already been dug out during the earthworks). Following the completion of these three trenches, we established a grid system for the collection of artefacts.

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Once the top layer of dirt and debris was removed and all structural wood was exposed the feature was mapped using a Trimble M3 total station.

SC161 Site plan 2
SC161 Site plan 2

At the same time, the stratigraphy of the northern baulk was drawn (this was the only stratigraphic profile that could be recorded, due to the sheet piling around the section).

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This....

                       Was recorded as this...

161 strat (2)
161 strat (2)
CS161 strat Kim amended
CS161 strat Kim amended

                which became this....

Then the wooden floorboards were removed and excavation of the subfloor space began, revealling a treasure trove of artefacts and structural information.

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Once the field work was completed preparation of the report began, with the historical research. Maps and newspapers revealed that this section of land was the site of Barnard's repository and later Tattersall's horse bazaar.

Next up: the artefact analysis, which was conducted by one of our in-house artefact specialists. The artefacts are analysed according to their material classes and recorded by a number of attributes, with research including place of manufacture, product type, company name and date of production. This research contributes to our final interpretation of the site.

Pipes 3
Pipes 3
PLYMOUTH
PLYMOUTH
capsules
capsules
COINS
COINS

Following the artefact analysis a series of spatial distribution maps were produced to determine whether or not there were any patterns in the distribution of the artefacts.

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20150521_114912 (1)

So what does it all mean? The location of the floor 2 metres below the ground surface indicated that it was a cellar floor. The artefacts found indicated that the cellar was primarily used to store alcohol bottles and leather goods. Conveniently, the historical research indicated that there had been both a hotel and a saddlery on site.

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And that's how the discovery of a few bottles led to us uncovering a unqiue piece of Christchurch's history. From the field work to the research, the artefact analysis to the final write up, the process is important in allowing us to tell the story of Christchurch.

Kim Bone