Spent a few hours on an archaeological dig in The Rocks last Friday. Between Cumberland and Gloucester Streets, across the road from the wee museum at Susannah Place and not far from the Coathanger (the Harbour Bridge).
(Bigger, close up of the site below)
They were looking for volunteers for washing and sorting of the stuff they were digging up. There was no way I was going to pass up the chance to get onto an active dig site in The Rocks.
I noticed the site last time I was up that way. It’s nothing spectacular to look at. Bit of empty ground between two streets, mesh fence round it, pub at one end, nice old terrace houses at the other.
But right now it's an active archaeological dig and you can see the old cobbled lane up the middle the old drain emptying onto Gloucester Street, the well and the foundations of several tiny old houses. Cool!
The lane at the bottom is Long Lane which runs from Gloucester Street (right) up to Cumberland Street. The short lane in the shaded area is Cribbs Lane. The lane between Cribbs and Long is Carahers Lane. The wider curved road is the Bradfield Hwy/Cahill Expressway.
Scrunched up in the top corner of the site against the pub was a small shipping container for the tools. Stretched between it and the fence was a tarp for the sorters and washers. It was a hot day when I went, another storm building up. We washers and sorters crowded under the shade of the tarp, diligently scrubbing away at the shards and bits with our toothbrushes, entertained by the students' tales of nutty lecturers and finds on previous digs. We gently brushed grot off shards of bone and bits of metal. Bits of china and glass and shell we dipped in the buckets and scrubbed carefully.
Plenty of big pieces of bone like the cow's hip socket and ball had been coming up from the slaughteryard level in one of the holes. Other than that, most of the stuff was broken pieces of bone, old pins and bits of wire, broken pipe-stems and so on. The sort of stuff that drops between rough floorboards and into the foundations below. There’d also been a tiny bottle discovered and a few years ago (if I remember right) one of the wells was dug up and whole unbroken plates and stuff were found in it.
(Big version) Carahers Lane
You could get onto the site through the gate near the pub (Australian Hotel) on Cumberland Street or you could come up through the lanes from George Street, up the old steps beside Susannah Place, along Gloucester Street a few yards, up Long Lane, right into Carahers Lane and in through the gate halfway along Carahers. Then you walked to where Carahers met Cribbs Lane and up Cribbs to the sorting area.
(Big version) Long Lane from the Gloucester Street end
Coming in the lanes way gave a better feel for the layout of the place. It must've been pretty claustrophobic. The lanes were only about six feet wide and houses were crammed together back then, with bugger all consideration for health and safety. Must've whiffed something cruel too, all those outdoor loos and no sewerage.
(Big version) Gloucester Street end of Long Lane, the lane is on the right
There were houses on the site in the 1790s. In 1809 Cripps arrived from England, having been convicted of cattle rustling, set up a house and slaughteryard on the site and proceeded to ply the trade of butcher and get into more trouble with the law. After the slaughterhouse was gone, there were more houses.
(Big version) Gloucester Street end of Long Lane, Long Lane on the left, the fence round the dig then more Gloucester Street terraces on the right
(Big version) Susannah Place is directly across the road. It's an old row of terrace houses with a shop at the end. The shop has been turned into a shop museum and is cool.
(Big version) Back of Susannah Place
It was a fun day. Doing the whole dig might get a bit tedious but a few hours washing the dirt off old pipe stems and buttons and bits of cups was interesting. There was a strong connection to past lives from handling mundane everyday stuff they used. I sat there hunched over the broken pieces of their stuff, imagining them in their tiny houses, a button coming off someone's shirt as they got dressed for work and them swearing as it disappeared between two floorboards. And maybe when they got home from work they sat out on the back step having a smoke and listening to the playing in the cobbled lane.
Potted histories, photos, that sorta thing:
Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority - A history of the dig site, its future, an aerial photo & a photo of the dug out bits
NSW Heritage Office - Long and Carahers Lane
Archaeological Excavation, 1994-1996 - download a case study of a previous dig at the site
(Big version) Sydney Harbour Bridge from outside the dig in Cumberland Street