The stories (and faces) beneath the surface

February 18, 2016

The site was successfully recorded using photogrammetric technique (a combination of survey and photography) a week ago and we have since been busy recording the surfaces and structures of the second phase (1860s-70s) ablutions yard in preparation for their excavation.

The surfaces and structures of the 2nd phase of the ablutions yard are uncovered.

The surfaces and structures of the 2nd phase of the ablutions yard are uncovered.

Whilst this has been going on we have started excavation of the central ‘Day Room’, finally getting into the deposits below the demolition debris. These comprise the artefact-rich silts which accumulated below the timber flooring of the building and which have great potential to provide us with information about the convicts who used this space. So far we have found over 150 diagnostic finds, including clay pipes (stems and bowls) and wooden buttons from their uniforms. Some of the clay pipes have been very interesting, including one with the profiles of Napoleon and Wellington on either sides of the bowl, which might have been designed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

The remnants of a clay pipe featuring the profile of Napolean.

The remnants of a clay pipe featuring the profile of Napolean.

This clay pipe remnant features the profile of the Duke of Wellington

This clay pipe remnant features the profile of the Duke of Wellington

We are now at week seven, with five weeks left to go. In this time we hope to get down to the first phase (1850s-60s) of the ablutions yard in order to see how the yard’s arrangement differed from its later incarnation. Test slots in the east and west yards have found that the pre-construction clay is just below the present layer of gravel, so it looks like the two phases of occupation are very close together.

For more information or to catch up on the background of this project, please head to portarthur.org.au/heritage/penitentiary-precinct-archaeological-excavation/