SciBlogs

Archive June 2011

Kathryn Ryan Interview with Brigid Gallagher Brigid Gallagher Jun 28

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I thought some of you may like to hear this interview  on the nine to noon show yesterday.  The first half is about some of my international experiences, and the second half is about New Zealand.

I hope you enjoy!

Monitoring and Recording Archaeology in Canterbury…Again Brigid Gallagher Jun 22

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Christchurch heritage has once more been in the headlines over the last week or so.   The collapse and slide of the Lyttleton Timeball Station, more damage in the central area, and huge areas of liquefaction in the past week are all big news for archaeology and heritage.  Whilst I want the best for the residents of Christchurch and the surrounding area, I have been on the look out for progress in the way archaeology is handled since the February quake.

As always, when I see the damage to heritage in the news, are two nagging questions: 

          1: What is the effect of liquefaction on buried archaeological remains in the quake zones?

          2: Are the buildings being monitored and recorded appropriately?

Luckily for me archaeologist Katharine Watson presented a paper at this years NZAA conference, and provided many of the answers to the second question. She has also managed to update me of changes since last weeks large aftershocks.

Katharine is one of the consultant archaeologists employed by the Historic Places Trust to monitor and record pre 1900 buildings in the cordoned area, the red zone, of central Christchurch.  Even in a state of emergency, the archaeological provisions of the Historic Places Act apply.  This means that in all instances where human activity has occurred or suspected to have occurred prior to 1900, an archaeologist must be employed to monitor and record the evidence (NZHPT ‘In the Red Zone’ from the Cantebury West Coast Heritage Matters magazine).

What came through strongly in Katharine’s presentation, was that media have been reporting the work of such groups as Cera, NZHPT, the Recovery Council, Engineering Firms and Architects from the beginning;  but archaeologists like Katharine, and her colleague Dan Witter, have also been in the rubble, confusion and demolition works doing the nuts and bolts tasks archaeologists have to do in these types of situations.

Her story was honest.  She was congratulatory of the NZHPT for gaining access and publicity for archaeological work to occur prior to deconstruction or demolition of buildings.  But, she was equally clear about the disorganisation of the city and misinformation that occurred in the weeks following February 22 2011. 

From the archaeological point of view it seems that the governing bodies did not know the role of archaeologists, and perhaps more importantly, how they fitted into processes implemented following the February aftershocks.

The Beginning of the Archaeological Story

The focus was on pre-1900 buildings.

NZHPT negotiated access to the red zone 2 weeks after February 22, for archaeologists to record buildings prior to the deconstruction.  It is understood that many of the pre-1900 building demolitions that occurred in the CBD in the first weeks under USAR management occurred before archaeologists were permitted to enter the red zone, when issues of life and safety were paramount.

What she said was, ‘It’s hard to convey the atmosphere in the EOC in those early days, when there was little coordination between different teams, roles were constantly changing and few people seemed to really know what was going on’. This was not an easy working environment for anybody. 

This was further compounded by what she calls a non-systematic approach to communicating what buildings needed to be recorded. 

On a number of occasions the archaeologists arrived at a property to find it had already been demolished, was an incorrect property, or not in immediate danger of demolition.  The result Katharine stresses is not necessarily a bad one, just that some historic buildings have been recorded that post-date 1900. 

Solutions and Outcomes

The solution was to install a Google based spread sheet which could be updated and accessed by the archaeologists and the NZHPT managers so that Katharine and Dan could be ‘kept ahead of the game’.  So they could get to buildings before diggers and came in to deconstruct or demolish. 

It is worthy to note that deconstruction, Katharine defines as, being what happens when only part of the building is being removed, rather than the whole building being demolished

Prior to last Monday’s shake Katharine says that the flow of information to archaeologists had improved, under RCP management, and that demolition had also substantially slowed.  

  • NZHPT are notified prior to any new demolitions occurring to allow archaeological monitoring and recording to occur. 
  • The spreadsheet is updated
  • A short report for each building recorded is written

Another positive change to the demolition process has been the inclusion of a clause that prohibits any sub surface works to occur, such as the removal of building foundations, without a standard archaeological authority.  This is important because this will allow for extra time to excavate and record any surviving buried archaeology at a future time, such as when new development or rebuilding works begin.  Sub-surface archaeology by its nature is not generally considered a safety hazard.

Methods of recording the buildings have involved a lot of photos being taken, survey, GPS, laser scanning and written documentation. The preparation to deconstruct the Timeball Station stone by stone is a good example of how heritage buildings can be recorded.  Laser scanning, followed by condition analysis and monitoring, digitally generated elevations, stone by stone labelling and storage.  Unfortunately, this could not be completed.

At the time of her presentation, Katharine said, ‘The current total list of pre-1900 buildings that are being demolished is around 200, three-quarters of which are still standing. The number of listed or registered buildings that will be demolished is not known‘.

Changes since the Aftershocks last week

Knowing my interest in this subject, Katharine contacted me last week to say that:

  • Black passes to enter the CBD have been introduced and,
  • Demolition that had slowed has once more gone up a gear due to the damage caused by last Mondays quake.  This has meant changes in priorities and the recording of buildings that were not previously ear marked.

Safety had once again taken the lead (as it has to be), determining how and what buildings are treated with regard demolition, deconstruction and archaeological monitoring.

The big coup for archaeology has been that NZHPT has been involved from the beginning.  This means that archaeologists like Katharine are in the loop of communication, and heritage buildings marked for demolition are being monitored and recorded by the appropriate professionals. 

The importance of this should not be downplayed.  It seems that:

  1. Archaeologists are being included as recognised professionals that have a valid role in the demolitions and deconstruction phase of Christchurch,
  2. Archaeologists are taking a pragmatic approach, ‘Get in, get it recorded, get out’.  .
  3. Templates and procedures are being developed to deal with heritage and archaeology, whilst simultaneously dealing with fundamental priorities such as safety and public health should another quake occur (this is not unique to archaeology, templates generated by the Canterbury Disaster Salvage Team that was founded in 1987 can be found at here.  This a team of professionals from the cultural and heritage sectors in Canterbury, who have been active since 1987, to provide training and advice in the care and maintainance of heritage collections in disaster situations).
  4. Monitoring and recording of archaeological sites are occurring!  If we cannot have the building, we can collect all the information we can from them for future generations.

Whilst the role of archaeology is being validated, Katharine’s presentation showed that whilst there have been hard times regarding heritage, but methods and attitudes are changing.  Hopefully archaeologists are also proving that they are not time wasters and a drain on an already stressful environment.  This can only be better for archaeologists and heritage in the future. 

And it can only be better for New Zealand should this type of tragic natural disaster occur else where.  As saying goes…’Be Prepared’… otherwise we will loose what precious history we have. 

I may have said this before, but I will say it again…our human history is finite, once it is destroyed, there is no getting it back.

 

Apologies, due to the length of this post the next one will be my musings on the issue of liquefaction and its effect on archaeology…

Big thanks to Katharine Watson for her presentation and access to her notes!  And also the support of Frank at NZHPT.

New Zealand Archaeologists at the ‘Coal Face’ Brigid Gallagher Jun 14

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Last week the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Conference was held in Havelock North. A great venue to get a picture of some of the projects and relationships archaeologists are involved in; it demonstrated that archaeology and heritage are alive and kicking here in Aotearoa.

It was really good to listen to, discuss and witness themes and initiatives keeping archaeology relevant to modern life. Presentations ranged from:

  • coastal erosion and climate change, to
  • genetic disease predisposition in Polynesian groups, to
  • problems of storage and collections policies for museums and archaeological collections, to
  • the recording of at risk sites and the most appropriate ways to approach this.

There were prehistoric and historic sites, archaeological and anthropological research, iwi perspectives and scientific perspectives. 

Maps, documents, survey, excavation, digital technology and dissemination were all on display.

Benefits to, and roles in, nature conservation, indigenous initiatives, tourism, commercial developments and disaster management, were represented.

There was a mix of detailed analysis for the ‘professionals’, and pop-arch — easy listening and informative archaeology for the masses.

Themes crossed a broad sector of society and groups including some fantastic iwi driven projects, collaborations between archaeologists and iwi, and how science and humanity orientated bodies can come together to bring a synthesised and holistic approach to better understand the past and heritage of this country. 

Intrinsic to many of the discussions was the current role of archaeology, with the sometimes underlying and sometimes dominant issue of public and community awareness, education and visibility.

          How to get the story of archaeology out there. 

          How to tap into community to share knowledge and excite others. 

          How to better promote the skills and potential of archaeologists and sites.

          How to better link into already recognised and validated projects and institutions. 

          How to increase the voice of all heritage professionals, in their many guises, to be more effective in modern Aotearoa.

          How to best care for the land we inhabit.

Archaeology provides data that informs and reflects on our collective past.

This conference reaffirmed for me that the information it generates adds another layer to pertinent modern issues in NZ. 

Bicultural relationships, multicultural effects, settlement patterns, biodiversity, geology, geomorphology, climate change, coastal erosion, medical diseases such as gout and diabetes, diet, architecture, and ancient DIY are all present.  

A prominent New Zealand archaeologist said…’What people do not realise is that New Zealand archaeologists are working right at the coal face.’ 

I came away impressed, and have to agree with her.  In today’s multi-cultural New Zealand, archaeologists are required to be professional, political, culturally aware and sensitive, managers, advocates, scientists and communicators. Many archaeologists are out in the field, not tucked away in offices. Transparency and accountability, not traditional requirements of the job, are also required in this time of user pays.

It is a tall order, and not one that is easy sailing all of the time.

Like other sciences, it might not have been where archaeology started but this looks likely to be its future….

….Over my next few entries I will attempt to communicate some of the current themes presented at this years conference.

Virtual Archaeology with Time Team is going Live Now – Medieval Chapel Brigid Gallagher Jun 02

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Last night I had an email from Time Teams location manager Kerry Ely.  Originally he was the archaeological site supervisor and  great man to have around on a dig.   He said that he was in the pub in true Time Team fashion.  You can only imagine what a group of archaeologists, a television crew and a production team get up to in small towns across the British Isles! Beside him was the lovely head of sound, Stevie, and a wonderful camera assistant named Jack. 

All in all I can imagine a rowdy bunch of around 60 + people, joking, discussing the last week, and discussing archaeology.  Pubs are the uncensored labs, offices and meeting rooms for British archaeologists. They are often where the best work and ideas are thought over, debated over and decided, or not.

The Time Team are away on their 5th shoot of the series for the next viewing year, at Bamburgh Castle, in Northumbria.  They were at Bamburgh last year also making this an unusual  site.   Time Team does not normally return to a site.  It has done so only a couple of times before.  The Team must have left the site last time feeling as though there were more gems to reveal.  The web leads us to believe they are hoping to find a medieval chapel.

Now, it is about 10.30am Thursday morning in the UK as I write this.  Filming would have begun on site.  Tony would, hopefully, have completed his piece to camera for the introduction, John and the geophysics crew should be busy surveying and perhaps coming through with the first results, the incident room should be bursting with researchers, historian and other specialists looking at maps, old documents and computers.  Phil should be on site looking about and thinking about the first trench; if he is lucky he may already have broken the turf.  The other archaeologists may be drinking coffee and waiting for the call to get in the trench, or others, to begin excavating.

Also on site this year is a web based team.  Very shortly the should begin uploading short blog style video content to the web.  Time Team Digital is a new concept to Time Team.  For the next 3 days it allows people to watch excerpts and interviews of the team as the excavation happens, and hopefully followers get a sense that they are experiencing a real archaeological dig, with its discovery, discussion and interpretations.  Without having to wait for the edited episode next year. 

This should be an interesting way of viewing a whole lot of archaeologists, scientists and historians working through the process of an archaeological dig.  And taking you along for the ride….

Go check it out, it would be good to hear what you like about it afterwards.

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