Historic treasures found under central Christchurch site

The clay pipe was made by French pipe manufacturing firm L. Fiolet and depicts a European view of...
The clay pipe was made by French pipe manufacturing firm L. Fiolet and depicts a European view of the 1857 Indian Mutiny. Photo: Newsline
A clay smoking pipe made in France, depicting a scene from an 1857 rebellion in India, is just one of the thousands of historic treasures found under the site of The Court Theatre's new home.

Archaeology firm Underground Overground has been working with Christchurch City Council contractors to excavate the area, which will be the theatre's new home in the Performing Arts Precinct.

Intact gin and soda bottles, marbles, glass beads, a bone toothbrush, currency that could only be used in Christchurch, a pit of old leather shoes, brick lined wells, building remains, latrines, infilled gullies, drains, and cesspits have all been discovered under the ground on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester Sts.

A boot uncovered at the site. Photo: Supplied
A boot uncovered at the site. Photo: Supplied
"The majority of archaeological features identified, and artefacts recovered appear to date to the 1850s and 1860s, which is relatively early for Christchurch European archaeological sites," said Clara Watson, Underground Overground Archaeology artefact specialist.

"Most other in the city tend to date a little later than this.

"The site is also interesting in that it is commercial rather than domestic in use, which again is less common in Christchurch.

"There’s a lot we can look at and learn about how people lived."

The section of Colombo St was largely a boutique shopping area with a few residential homes 170 years ago.

"The items are now being washed and analysed, we still have a lot of work to do before we can fill in how these items got there," Watson said.

The clay smoking pipe, which depicts a man attacking a woman while her child lays dead at her feet, was manufactured by the French pipe manufacturing firm L. Fiolet and depicts a European view of the 1857 Indian Mutiny.

The archaeologists are now working on the puzzle on how this French-made pipe, which was inspired by events in India, ended up in Christchurch.

"There is no evidence that the pipe has been smoked, and one possibility is that, due to the very graphic and confronting design of the pipe, nobody wanted to purchase it and the store owner actually dumped it as part of unsold stock," Watson said.

These questions will be part of the ongoing analysis of the material from the site.

The site was unique due to the sheer number of items that were found, and how well they had been preserved under the ground.

A cross-section view of The Court Theatre. The preliminary designs for the new theatre were...
A cross-section view of The Court Theatre. The preliminary designs for the new theatre were released in May last year. Photo: Christchurch City Council
About 55 boxes containing thousands of artefacts have been taken from the site.

Said City council acting head of vertical capital delivery Brent Smith: "The archaeology team worked closely with contractors on site to allow for the appropriate archaeological investigations, while not holding up the works programme."

An artist's impression of The Court Theatre's new home on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester...
An artist's impression of The Court Theatre's new home on the corner of Colombo and Gloucester Sts in the Performing Arts Precinct. Photo: Christchurch City Council
Construction of The Court Theatre is expected to start in July.

The three-storey building will have a 375-seat auditorium, a 120-seat family theatre that will also be the stage for late night Scared Scriptless shows, and an education studio, front of house bars, restaurant and box office. 

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