Historical relics at risk in Christchurch

Joy Reid
Source: 1News

Hundreds of thousands of historical relics in Christchurch face an uncertain future. The earthquakes have made the city a unique archaeological paradise with so many demolitions and ground movements unearthing hidden treasures.

The latest haul was found as archaeologists sifted through what will soon be the foundations of the city’s new Court Theatre.

Archaeologist Clara Watson says she anticipated they would find some items of significance, but what they found far exceeded their expectations. She says they have collected 55 boxes of items which date back to the 1850s.

"It’s one of three largest assemblages of European material found in Christchurch."

The items include hundreds of leather shoes, gin bottles and glassware. The site used to house a boot factory and a fancy goods store. One of the discovered boots is well preserved and includes the initials J.B.

She says the discovery indicates the site was a commercial hub and “possibly the first high street” painting a picture as to what life was like in the early settler community.

“It provides a personal connection to somebody in the past," she told 1News.

Each item is catalogued and recorded and written into a report.

The sheer scale of the archaeological work in post quake Christchurch is unprecedented. Christchurch is one of the most excavated cities and comparable to cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland.

Heritage NZ says it has issued authorities for 4000 sites in the city since the earthquakes. Large quantities of items have been discovered particularly at the sites of what is now the Te Pae convention centre and the Justice Precinct.

Legislation protects items which are considered a special taonga tūturu, but most European items belong to the landowner.

Katharine Watson of Christchurch Archaeology says most landowners don’t want the relics which puts the items at risk.

Local museums do not have room to store so many items. She has three containers full of recovered items that are unwanted.

Watson says “the future of the collection is not secure and is under threat”. She added “it could be thrown out at any time”.

She has kept the items in the hope that someone will one day want to research or display them.

She believes they hold huge research potential as they are unique globally and provide a unique glimpse into understanding Christchurch’s past.