Archaeololgy fieldwork at Port Arthur continues to illuminate our convict past
A recent project has reexamined artefacts originally excavated at Port Arthur during the 1970s, but which have not until now been fully studied due to a life cut tragically short.
After nearly four decades on the shelf, the collection of pioneering University of Sydney archaeology student Maureen Byrne has finally been analysed, opening an extraordinary window into the daily lives of Australia’s most hardened convicts.
Though 35 years have passed since Byrne unearthed the rare artefacts from Australia’s first prisoners’ barracks at Port Arthur, her findings had never been examined. Byrne’s untimely death at the age of twenty-four from a severe asthma attack left a planned second excavation of the site unfulfilled; her collection unscrutinised and stowed away for safe-keeping at the site.
In July 2012 the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority (PAHSMA) hosted and co-delivered a University of Sydney Advanced Archaeology workshop in archaeological artefact analysis. Seven students led by Dr Martin Gibbs spent two weeks at Port Arthur sorting, cataloguing and quantifying the artefact recoveries from the 1977 excavations at the First Prisoner Barracks site.
PAHSMA’s Jeanne Harris provided professional advice and support for the duration of the period. The course participants undertook the first structured assessment of this material since its initial recovery some 35 years ago. At least two Honours level projects have been developed from the course; these will take place in the 2013 academic year.
To read a full report on the fieldwork project, provided courtesy of the University of Sydney, visit www.portarthur.org.au/fieldwork
A hand-painted child’s cup, dating from the late 19th century to early 20th century
A miniature collectable A toy brass cannon found in Byrne's collection suggests the Port Arthur barracks was the unlikely home of military families
Workshop participants are guided by PAHSMA’s Jeanne Harris