The first phase of excavations of the Penitentiary Ablutions area has just been wound up. Over the course of three months we shifted a huge amount of spoil, uncovering features from the convict period that have not seen the light of day for over 140 years.
It has been an intriguing exercise comparing the historical record with the archaeological results, with many features encountered which were never detailed in written or illustrative records. We have also discovered a whole phase of occupation that we never knew about in the west yard, during which the yard was surfaced with a very compact gravel. Over 1000 diagnostic artefacts have been plotted across the site, meaning that we can really come to grips with how these spaces were used by convicts and guards alike. Thousands more artefacts were recovered from the area, all of which are being catalogued and analysed by the artefacts expert in preparation for reporting.
Work in the Day Room has largely been completed, with all the subfloor deposits relating to the ablutions period of occupation excavated. This has revealed a layer of redeposited clay, into which has been cut a footing and a drain – neither of which were historically recorded. These features, in combination with the high amount of broken brick rubble scattered across the surface of the clay, suggests that deposits associated with the 1840s construction and occupation of the flour mill and granary lie directly below the later ablutions yard layers.
However, that is not the end. Starting April 26th and running through to early June we will be back excavating for another six weeks. During this time we will concentrate on investigating the eastern and western yards, in particular the unknown intermediate phase we discovered in the west yard. With the weather having turned mild, we are looking forward to a stint of rewarding and uninterrupted digging.
For more information on this project please head to http://portarthur.org.au/heritage/penitentiary-precinct-archaeological-excavation/