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Archaeology comes alive for visitors to Port Arthur


Port Arthur’s team of archaeologists and volunteers are hard at work this summer, uncovering more hidden secrets and also revealing the practical workings and importance of archaeology for visitors.

Over the past 30 years, archaeology has revealed a lot of the forgotten history of Port Arthur – from the daily workings of the penal colony to the intimate details of domestic life.

Archaeologist Jody Steele had a largely youthful audience in her thrall as she explained why archaeologists at Port Arthur are particularly interested in excavating sites of convict-era toilet facilities.

“If you were a convict and had some items that you weren’t supposed to have, where would you get rid of them if the area was going to be searched by guards?”, she asked.

Fellow archaeologist Tim Owen explained that in addition to confirming the location and layout of long-vanished buildings, their work often revealed fascinating personal items that connected individuals with the historical record.

“A couple of years ago we were digging the site of the home of Port Arthur commissariat officer, Thomas Lempriere,” Tim told his audience. “We found a domino tile that had dropped through the floorboards, which had nine dots on it. Domino tiles now typically have just six, so we did some research and discovered that dominos with nine dots had been popular in the north of England, which is where Lempriere had lived prior to coming to Van Dieman's Land.”

Jody and Tim, with assistance of a team of volunteers and under the supervision of PAHSMA Archaeology Manager Greg Jackman, are excavating the site of the second hospital at Port Arthur – in an area in front of the third hospital, the striking ruins of which dominate Settlement Hill.

Artefacts are cleaned, catalogued and stored in the growing archaeology collection at the Historic Site by volunteers under the supervision of archaeologist Penny Crook.. Visitors can join in the digging and participate in daily archaeology tours until January 18.

Archaeology comes alive for visitors to Port Arthur

Members of the public join in the excavation of the second hospital site.

Archaeology comes alive for visitors to Port Arthur

Tim and Jody demonstrate archaeological techniques with volunteers from the audience.

Archaeology comes alive for visitors to Port Arthur

Jody and Tim explain the archaeological process to visitors.

Archaeology comes alive for visitors to Port Arthur

Volunteers sieve excavated soil to find artefacts.