During 2016 the Archaeology Team at Port Arthur completed the largest archaeological excavation ever carried out on site. The excavation occurred behind the Penitentiary and focused on the Ablutions area (comprising wash and toilet blocks, shelter sheds, a day room and exercise yards) and Laundry (housing the laundry, stores, bath house and boiler). The team spent 7 months investigating features and deposits associated with the full swathe of Port Arthur’s history (1830-77).
Photogrammetry was a vital recording tool during the process, essentially replacing the traditional forms of hand-drawn recording. The digital recording process provides us with the ability to model the area at different stages throughout the excavation. These models – as well as others generated – will be used for archaeological illustration and site interpretation. Two models have been provided for each area, illustrating the excavations at major points in the process. Annotations have been made on each model, explaining key aspects of the sites. Click on the models below to have a closer look or click here to go to our Sketchfab profile.
6 July 2016
The excavation has finally wrapped up and the results are starting to generate some interesting information. Most excitingly, the photogrammetry (extremely high resolution photo stitching) has come together to give us images of the whole excavation showing the stratigraphy (or historical layers) of the three main phases of the areas occupation: Phase I (1856 – ca.1859), Intermediate (ca.1859 – ca.1863) and Phase II (ca.1863 – 1877). The two photographs below, showing Phase I and II demonstrate the changes that the ablutions yard underwent during the convict period.
Even though it is very early stages, the results of Port Arthur’s largest archaeological excavation are coming together and offering new and exciting insights into the history of the Penitentiary. This excavation has highlighted how stark the prison yard was behind the building. Where before there was just a flat, grassed area that meant little to our visitors, now we can show that there was a complex space containing buildings, walls, shelters, sheds and fireplaces. Its various iterations can be linked to wider changes in the convict system in Australia and Britain and, as such, help us understand how the Port Arthur authorities sought to implement Imperial penal policy in a far-flung colony.
The locations of over 1400 diagnostic artefacts were recorded during the excavation and as we begin to study them we will be able to piece together patterns of behaviour in the yards and the day room.
We have also been able to investigate the pre-Penitentiary period, excavating portions of the historical layers that correspond to the time before and during the construction of the flour mill and granary (1843 – 1845). Evidence was found across the area, suggesting that the original waterfront space had been a scene of activity from the earliest period of settlement. A heavily damaged footing encountered at the base of the day room may have related to a barn structure known to have been sited at the rear of the flour mill during the 1840s. Excavation also showed that layers of clay and stone had been imported to the site, building up the level of the ground prior to the construction of the ablutions yard.
For more information on this project please head to http://portarthur.org.au/heritage/penitentiary-precinct-archaeological-excavation/