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ASHA NEWS



Dr David Roe (Archaeology Manager) and Richard Tuffin (Project Archaeologist) PAHSMA

Last year was a big year for archaeology at the Port Arthur Historic Site. Over a seven month period, we managed to excavate the full extent of the area at the rear of the Penitentiary. Converted between 1854-56 from an 1840s flour mill and granary, the Penitentiary we see today only represents one small part of the former precinct. Once fronted by a parade ground and flanked by workshops and commissariat stores, the building had been situated within a busy precinct where facilities of incarceration, punishment and welfare operated beside industrial and administrative infrastructure.

The 2016 archaeological excavation focussed on the service-related aspects of the precinct: the ablutions and laundry facilities, exercise yards, shelters and stores which were vital to the operation of the larger building. As such, the investigation provided an opportunity to examine the management of convict welfare and, in particular, how this evolved across the life of the Penitentiary. The ablutions yard was excavated during January–May 2016, with the laundry area investigated during November–December.

See image above: Orthophotograph of the full area of excavation, showing deposits and features related to the first phase of occupation (ca.1856-ca.1863)

The archaeological investigations were necessary from a conservation, research and interpretation standpoint. With conservation works ongoing within the Penitentiary precinct since 2011, a decision was taken to use open-area research excavation, instead of undertaking mitigation excavations in reaction to the works. The archaeological results would also feed into interpretation of the precinct. From a research point of view, there was high value in examining an area for which limited information on changes in historical fabric and use existed. The investigations also provided a rare opportunity to engage with the management, welfare and lived experiences of a convict population. This was particularly interesting, as the population under investigation, which after transportation’s cessation in 1854 was an ageing mix of colonially and Imperially-convicted prisoners, has rarely been archaeologically studied.

The excavations revealed a multi-phase site, with features and deposits dating to the Penitentiary period and from earlier phases when the site was occupied by the 1830s waterfront workshops and the 1840s flour mill and granary. The dominant phase represented was related to the Penitentiary, indicative of the disruptive major works associated with the conversion of the precinct from industrial to incarcerative purposes.

In the ablutions area, which accounted for about 2/3 of the area investigated, the first phase configuration had seen exercise yards flanking a centrally-located ablutions block. Surfaced with hardwearing brick and dolerite gravels spread over tons of imported clay, the yards had been fitted with shelters, bench seating and fireplaces. Providing a modicum of protection from the elements, the yards afforded a controllable space where prisoners interacted. In contrast, the ablutions block was a cramped space in which upwards of 480 convicts were expected to carry out basic toiletry requirements morning and evening. It was likely the patently unsuitable conditions in the block that triggered a remodelling of the whole ablutions yard. At some point in the early 1860s, the toilet and washing spaces were removed to the flanking yards, resulting in the demolition of the former compounds and the construction of new shelter sheds in the spaces. The central block was converted to a day room fitted with benches and fireplaces.

Whilst undergoing less of a change, the laundry area, adjoining the western edge of the ablutions yard, similarly went through two major phases of activity. The building originally contained the laundry proper, stores, a bathhouse and washing area, as well as a wood store. When the conversions happened in the 1860s, the building was extended eastwards into the ablutions yard, with a large brick foundation constructed to accommodate a hot water boiler and its associated chimney stack. This boiler provided water to the bakehouse, laundry and washing facilities in the ablutions yard.

The excavation within the laundry area removed all deposits associated with the Penitentiary period. In the ablutions area they were removed down to the first phase of activity, with slots and trenches then excavated to sample the pre-Penitentiary deposits and features underneath. This found that, whilst some evidence of the earlier workshops and flour mill phases remained, the Penitentiary conversion had resulted in the wholesale demolition and removal of any upstanding fabric. What remained were demolition materials and surfaces, and reclamation deposits associated with preparing the area.

Image: Orthophotograph of the full area of excavation, showing deposits and features related to the second phase of occupation (ca.1863-ca.1877)

A large number of artefacts were recovered from the ablutions area, particularly from the surfaces of the exercise yards and within the central ablutions block/day room (which had had raised timber floors); the position of all diagnostic artefacts was recorded in 3D. In total, the excavation recovered some 1,800 spot finds, including a surprising number of lead and ceramic tokens or gaming pieces. Relatively few artefacts were recovered from the laundry area, likely because a number of rooms had been surfaced with sandstone flagging which would have been regularly swept, but also because the rooms had suffered marked disturbance when the building was salvaged in the post-convict period.

Image: One of the lead tokens in situ. Note the broad arrow!

Reporting to acquit statutory commitments is currently being undertaken, with further publication of key results to come. A number of papers have already been presented on the early results, including the 3D photogrammetry models which were generated throughout the course of the project. These can be viewed at:

www.portarthur.org.au/penitentiary-excavation-wraps-preliminary-findings.

Image: Screenshot of one of the 3D photogrammetry models generated during the excavation

We are excited to see what further analysis of the artefacts can tell us; we are particularly interested in their spatial distribution in relation to each other and to the spaces within which they were found. Further historical research also needs to take place, targeting the conduct records to extract information about behaviour and surveillance patterns within the yards.

The area itself will not be going back to the grassed area that it once was. Rather, our interpretation team will be introducing new hard-wearing surfaces and features to interpret the historical use and form of the area.

As always, the excavation would not have been possible without the dedicated band of archaeologists. David Roe and Richard Tuffin would like to thank: for the Penitentiary Ablutions work – Laura Bates, Lauren Davison, Henry Lion, Ronan McEleney, Fiona Shanahan, Rhian Slicer-Jones, and Zvonka Stanin; for the Penitentiary Laundry work - Laura Bates, Emma Church, Lauren Davison, Josh Gaunt, Adam Pietrzak, Michelle Richards and Sam Thomas. Peter Rigozzi was responsible for the amazing ortho and 3D photogrammetry produced during the excavation.



Compiled by Bronwyn Woff

Monitoring has begun ahead of works to restore and protect the National Heritage Listed Richmond Bridge, which was built by convicts in 1823.

For more information, see: www.abc.net.au/news

Image taken from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richmond_Bridge_Panorama_Restitch.jpg     Accessed 25/03/2017



Compiled by Bronwyn Woff

The New Zealand Archaeological Association have announced their annual conference for 2017. The conference will be held in Thames, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island on 21-24 June 2017. Proposals for papers and posters are now being recieved, from topics across all aspects of New Zealand and Pacific Archaeology. And early-bird discount will apply for attendees who register and pay before 30 April.

For more information, please see: https://nzarchaeology.org/event/nzaa-annual-conference-2017




Department of Environment and Energy, Australian Government

The Australian Heritage Council is assessing Centennial Park, Sydney, for potential inclusion in the National Heritage List. The National Heritage List recognises places that are of outstanding heritage value to the nation for their natural, Indigenous and/or historic heritage values.

Please provide any written comments on this place by close of business 28 April 2017 to:
Australian Heritage Council
GPO Box 787
Canberra ACT 2601
Email: [email protected]

For more information, including maps and nomination paperwork, please see:  www.environment.gov.au

Image from:  https://psychedelictraveler.com/2015/04/22/centennial-park/    Accessed 25/03/2017


Complied by Bronwyn Woff

The Australasian Institute for Maratime Archaeology and Heritage Victoria are running an Introduction to Maritime Archaeology course on 22-23 April 2017. More details regarding the course (Part 1) can be found at http://www.aima-underwater.org.au/parts-i-iv/  

For more information, please contact Peter Harvey: [email protected] .



AACAI NSW/ACT

Tickets are now on sale for the Sydney Historical Archaeology Practitioner's Workshop (19 May 2017). Tickets will be on sale until 15 May 2017 unless sold out earlier - book now to avoid disappointment.

The one day workshop is an opportunity for practitioners, students and those interested in historical archaeology to explore best practice, innovations and technology as well as recent historical archaeology projects in NSW. This year's theme is theme ‘views and interpretations – historical archaeology in NSW.’ The day will include keynote speakers, papers, practical demonstrations and discussions all related to current practice in historical archaeology.

Please visit: www.trybooking.com to book your seat.

Melissa Dunk

Atherton Chinatown is arguably one of the most thoroughly researched Chinese sites in North Queensland. The strong Chinese presence at Atherton was mainly within the designated area outside of the main township and over time, has not been subject to development. Several archaeological studies have been conducted in the Atherton Chinatown district from 1981 to 2015. The the majority of the collection related to this site were discovered in these excavations, but the collection is also made up of items that have been given back to the museum from the public, object which are presumed to have originally come from the site.



This complete bottle belongs to the Atherton Chinatown assemblage, which contains over 2,000 artefacts and is managed by the National Trust of Queensland.

The bottle’s unique identifier is the embossed Japanese Katakana characters that wrap around the outside of the bottle. These characters triggered my memories of high school Japanese class.

In studying this bottle, I was struggling to work out the bottles use and contents by translating the Japanese Katakana characters. These characters were key as it is a Japanese syllabary for non-Japanese borrowed words. The characters on the bottle were ‘ru-bee nir-ki’ and they didn’t make much sense to me. Was it a person’s name: Ruby Nurkey? Was I reading it wrong?

With a little bit of web assistance, I searched for Japanese bottles and different types of bottles, and my ‘ah hah’ moment hit. If you read the characters from right to left, as Japanese is meant to be read, it transliterates to ‘kirin beeru’.

The bottle likely held beer manufactured by Kirin Beer which was established in Yokohama, Japan in 1885. FOr more information see: http://www.kirinholdings.co.jp/english/company/history/group/01.html.



Michael Lever

The NSW Archaeology Reading Group will next meet at 6.30pm on Monday 10th April at Unit 94 / 120 Saunders Street, Pyrmont.

To satisfy participant demands for Historical archaeology content, theory content, and some Binford, I've dug out a couple of my favourite items to read, centering around the topic: Binford & Historical Archaeology

Be assured, they are not your characteristic slog through Binfordian hyperbole and hypothetico-deductive puritanism. They are relatively light & I think captivating reads, and also illustrate change in Binford over time.

The two items are:

1) Binford, L. 1977: 'Historical Archaeology - It It Historical or Archaeological?' Pp13-22 in L. Ferguson (ed) Historical Archaeology and the Importance of Material Things. Special Publication Series Number 2. Society for Historical Archaeology (USA).

2) Binford, L & M Thurman 1998: Conversations with Lewis R. Binford on Historical Archaeology. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 32, No. 2 (1998), pp. 28-55

If you have any difficulty locating either of these, please contact me and I will supply ([email protected] / 0413 564 995).




Collated by Bronwyn Woff

Members in New Zealand who are wishing to participate in the NZAA Archaeology Week (1-7 April 2017) activities can find an event schedule at the following link: www.nzarchaeology.org

Events include lectures, tours, walks, mock-digs for kids, exhibitions and displays, and open days. Please support these events which aim to raise awareness about the importance of archaeology to the public.



Caroline Spry, La Trobe University

All are invited to ‘Looking back, looking forward for La Trobe Archaeology’. This event, which ties in with La Trobe University’s 50th Anniversary, will connect students, staff, alumni and others, showcase La Trobe Archaeology’s capabilities and build pathways for future careers and research-industry collaborations. It will comprise a panel discussion on career pathways by alumni working in archaeology and cultural heritage management; discussions and demonstrations of the equipment and services offered by La Trobe Archaeology; and an opportunity for students, staff, alumni and others to meet, reconnect and create work opportunities and collaborations over light refreshments.

Please save the date, and stay tuned for more details:
Date: Friday 19th May 2017 (National Archaeology Week 2017)
Venue: La Trobe University, Melbourne (Bundoora campus)