Past lives rise from rubble in Tasmania

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Parry Kostoglou is the man digging up Hobart’s past. His company ArcTas has carried out archaeological work across Tasmania for the past 18 years. 

Archaeologist Parry Kostoglou at work at the Myer site in Liverpool St, Hobart [Credit: Kim Eiszele]

The focus now is on Hobart CBD excavations. The historic artefacts found in Hobart are building a clearer picture of the city’s past. 

“The nature of the business has changed a lot. Originally 90 per cent of the work we did was in forestry, mining and agri-business,” Mr Kostoglou said. “Recently that’s changed and there’s a city-based focus with the construction boom.” 

He said developers were legally required to provide archaeological reports on their excavation sites. “We’ve been working non-stop on those types of jobs for the past five years,” he said. 

Mr Kostoglou said because Hobart did not have a lot of high-rise buildings, the archaeology of most areas was still intact underground. 

“They basically just knocked down the buildings and built up. The ground now is two to three metres higher than it used to be in most places,” he said. 

Because of this, the living spaces of people in the 1800s were often traceable under the concrete slabs of modern buildings. “They’re very well preserved most of the time,” Mr Kostoglou said. 

The location of building footings, fireplaces, bathrooms, back yards and the outdoor privy are easily recognised. “They’re little time capsules,” Mr Kostoglou said. 

He is able to tell whether families had children, what medicines they used, the foods they ate and what they drank. 

Mr Kostoglou said his favourite discoveries were children’s toys. “I’m a parent, so the kids’ toys are the things I love the most,” he said. 

“Quite often the kids will have been set up at opposite ends of the living room. The little boys will be at one end and the little girls at the other. You’ll find all the lost toys or ones they’ve hidden [like] toy jewellery and buttons, hair clips and hairbrush or mum’s pearls from a broken strand. Up the boys’ end you’ll get lead soldiers, marbles, tokens from pubs and coins; things he’s probably stolen from his dad.” 

Mr Kostoglou said even the tradesmen on construction sites got a kick out of the finds. “[Some] like the beauty and variety of the ceramic plates, or the diversity of the tobacco pipes because they went to a lot of trouble to make them ornamental back then,” he said. 

Mr Kostoglou said the discovery of human remains at some sites was “evocative”. “Often you’re dealing with infant remains … because infant mortality rates were quite high,” he said. 

Removable artefacts found at sites were often collected and became the property of the site owner. In-situ items were usually left where they were found, with details of the discovery recorded for a site report. 

But Mr Kostoglou said more developers were incorporating artefacts into their new buildings, with in-situ findings sometimes forming part of the new structure and artefacts put on display. 

“Archaeology is shifting away from the writing of a report that no one will see, to the ‘go into a building and see for yourself’,” he said. Places such as Ethos restaurant in Elizabeth St and the Menzies Research Centre are examples of places where construction has been designed to incorporate or protect historic findings. 

“If we excavate something and think it’s sufficiently rare, unusual or important, there are conditions that require the developer to modify the building design to preserve it,” Mr Kostoglou said. “But it’s not very often that we find these items.” 

Mr Kostoglou said he hoped some of the unique items found at the Myer site in Liverpool St, where he is currently working, would be displayed in the new building. “What we’re finding in the Myer site is sort of an opposite of what we find at most other sites,” he said. 

“Usually we get tonnes and tonnes of structure and we get good artefacts from the mid-19th century. What we’ve found at Myer is really poor preservation of the building fabric, because the buildings that we’re talking about date from 1814. But we’re finding artefacts that are rare and old.” 

Arabic coins, Chinese dinnerware and elaborate tobacco pipes from the 17th century are among some of the more unusual finds. 

“We had no idea they had access to these sorts of things,” Mr Kostoglou said. “What the hell are Arabic coins doing on the foreshore of the Hobart rivulet in 1814?” 

His guess is they were used in a rudimentary bartering system. “The teacups and plates [found at the Myer site] are not the usual stuff that comes from England, it’s stuff that’s coming straight from China, which is highly unusual,” he said. 

“Generally only rich people had it and they showed it off on the mantelpiece. At the Myer site they had access to a lot of it and they actually used it because they’d broken lots of it. Then there’s the tobacco pipes; they’re really early. They’re a completely different style from what was around then.” 

Mr Kostoglou said he was optimistic that some of the unusual finds would be displayed in the new Myer building. 

“Artefacts are what we want to show off with a story, explaining what they are and where they’re from,” he said. 

Mr Kostoglou said the site was roughly first occupied in 1814 as a flour mill. 

Tony Arnold contacted the Sunday Tasmanian last week to say his great great-grandfather George Arnold established his bakery business at the site in 1854 Arnold’s Steam biscuit factory. 

Arnold’s cake shop was located where Fletcher Jones is now. 

Author: Hannah Martin | Source: The Mercury [January 15, 2012]

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