Archaeologists working in Christchurch have stumbled across a “massive” collection of artefacts under the quake-damaged Isaac Theatre Royale.
Eighteen boxes of artefacts were found under the theatre’s foundations during a partial demolition of the heritage building in December last year.
Katharine Watson, director of Underground Overground Archaeology, says the discovery came as a shock to the team.
“We weren’t expecting to find anything,” she says. "It was actually the digger driver who found it.”
Ms Watson says the artefacts are likely household rubbish left by people living on the site before the 1900s.
“It’s European stuff and generally ceramics, bottles or glass of other types, along with metals, animals bones or food waste and random bits of other things that you get from time to time such as slate or charcoal.”
She says her team is “very excited” by the find, which is among the biggest uncovered after the earthquakes.
“You don’t often get finds as big as this, so you don’t often get the opportunity to ask those really detailed questions, but now we’ve got that opportunity so that’s really exciting.
“It’s a chance to learn more about who was living there and what they were doing and the kind of things they were eating and how wealthy they might have been, the job they might have had.”
The work was commissioned by the Historic Places Trust under the 1993 Historic Places Act. Under the legislation, property owners must comply with the Historic Places Trust before modifying, damaging or destroying any building erected before the 1900s. The Trust will then decide whether to commission archaeological work at the site.
Around 15 archaeologists are currently working in Christchurch to help scour building sites during post-quake construction, Ms Watson says.
“In the vast majority of sites, we don’t find anything. There’s a few where we find a massive amount like this and a few in the middle where we might find one or two boxes.”
Information from the digs will be published free online through the University of Canterbury’s digital earthquake studies repository.
Ms Watson says the artefacts offer a lot of new information on Christchurch's history.
"I mean, there were bits of a crucible there. What on earth were they doing with a crucible on site? I’ve only seen those on gold rush sites up in Hokitika, so that’s quite intriguing.”
The Historic Places Trust is welcoming the find, saying the earthquakes have created a unique opportunity for archaeological history.
“With so much of our heritage lost in the earthquakes, it’s particularly important we record this so that it is available for future generations,” a spokesperson told 3 News.
“The earthquake allows for an opportunity to research and document the early history of the area on a much larger scale than anywhere else in the country.”
The Trust says it is working with Canterbury Museum to ensure information gathered from the research is available to Cantabrians.