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Treasure in the trenches for amateur archaeologists


Excavations at the Port Arthur Historic Site (PAHS) are revealing an intriguing insight into the dietary habits of residents of the former penal colony.

Fragments of condiment bottles, such as Worcestershire sauce and pickles, are among a host of items being unearthed during the summer public archaeology program.

The finds are delighting children and adults who are working with archaeologists and students on the site of an old rubbish dump and sawpit.

Port Arthur’s public dig runs until January 23 and is part of the historic site’s annual Summer Archaeology Program.

Annita Waghorn, Port Arthur’s conservation project officer for archaeology, said the dig offers members of the public an opportunity to do something active and engage with the site.

“It is very popular and provides a structured and practical program of digging, screening and sieving, cleaning and documenting,” Annita said.

“The aim is to encourage our participants to ask questions, find some answers and enjoy the challenge of piecing history together like a jigsaw puzzle.”

Annita said the amateur archaeologists had found pieces of glass, ceramics and nails as well as remnants of condiments containers.

“Pickles, chutneys and sauces were used a lot in the colonies,” she said.

“They would have added variety to a fairly monotonous diet and also would have disguised the flavour of not-so-fresh meat.”

Port Arthur Historic Site archaeology manager Greg Jackman has been involved with the public dig since its inception in 2001.

He said the aim was to provide a “transformative” experience.

“We hope participants go away with some new information,” Greg said.

“It should exercise the mind and be good for the soul as well.

“Archaeology is not just about finding treasure. Digging should be turned into something meaningful highlighting an important and ethical respect to preserve heritage.

“It is the information that is important.”

The dig is supported by volunteers, many of whom are archaeology students from all over Australia.

Greg said the program was a popular among university students who looked to it as an opportunity to gain practical experience in surveying and excavation.

Treasure in the trenches for amateur archaeologists
Treasure in the trenches for amateur archaeologists

Canberra visitors Kerrie, Sarah, Thomas and John Monck examine the pit for remnants of the past with archaeology program education consultant Sarah Stockwin Satchell (left)

Treasure in the trenches for amateur archaeologists

Greg Jackman and Annita Waghorn examine the morning's findings