Disaster Archaeology

Christchurch 2013:

Subsequent to the earthquake on 22 February 2011 the building at 1 Plover Street, Christchurch, was demolished (Figure 1 and Figure 2). On 14 October 2013 the New Zealand Historic Places Trust issued an emergency authority (2014/353eq) under section 11 of the Canterbury Earthquake (Historic Places Act) Order 2011 to Hawkins Construction. This authority was issued to allow the removal of the foundations and floor slabs from the demolished building. An authority was required as the earthworks had the potential to disturb subsurface archaeological deposits associated with the occupation of the site prior to 1900. As per condition 3 of that authority, the removal of the foundations at 1 Plover Street was monitored by an archaeologist.

That’s how many of the reports I write these days begin. Yes, I am working in Christchurch for a few weeks as an archaeologist. I’m monitoring foundation removals from demolished buildings. Whenever earthworks are likely to disturb an archaeological site, the person responsible for the earthworks needs to get an authority from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust. That authority usually requires that the earthworks be monitored by an archaeologist. In New Zealand any remains of human occupation prior to 1900 that could tell us about New Zealand’s history are considered archaeological remains, irrespective whether those remains are on public or private land.

At most sites we don’t find anything. We’re just there for an hour or so, watching as the foundations get taken out. Under new guidelines, a test pit is now excavated on most properties. We analyse the test pit checking for any signs of archaeological remains. It also gives us a good idea about the soil layers of the site. With all this information we can then write a report on the property. Most of the reports are fairly standard and not very exciting. But it may give a future researcher an overall picture of where archaeological remains have been discovered.

Due to the earthquake unusually many buildings are being demolished. Therefore the whole process has been stream-lined and the monitoring of foundation removals has become a routine operation. It guarantees that in the haste to rebuild Christchurch traces of the past are not obliterated.

Sometimes there are important finds, especially of 19th-century Christchurch. The archaeological data can add to our understanding of that period, sometimes changing our picture of life in those times. Additionally, artefacts provide a tangible connection to that past.

One of the normal procedures these days is to dig a test pit. This allows us to better judge the presence of any archaeological features and gives us an idea of the various soil layers that make up a site. A test pit is usually 1 metre to 1.5 metre deep.

Check out the account on my personal blog and also the very informative blog of the company I work for Underground Overground Archaeology.

This entry was posted in Archaeology, destruction, Heritage and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Disaster Archaeology

  1. Pingback: Dust and dirt « Letters on the way

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