Wananga landing Wananga landing

History under your feet

05 November 2023

Suggestions for Completion of Canterbury CollegeS.H. Seager, c.1913

Plan of Suggestions for Completion of Canterbury College
Architect S.H. Seager, c.1913
Macmillan Brown Library Archives Collection, University of Canterbury

X almost never marks the spot. So how do you find an archaeological site when it is hidden underground, and you don’t have a map to show you where it is?

Sometimes archaeological sites are found by chance, when a new road is being constructed, or an old building is being repaired. Usually, to find ancient sites, archaeologists will begin by studying early cultures to learn about how they lived, what their customs were, and what kinds of places they settled. They will use that knowledge to start looking for possible sites.

Archival records, such as this plan of Canterbury College drawn up by renowned architect Samuel Hurst Seager, have assisted archaeologists with excavations on of the Arts Centre site.

Handblown glassware and scientific equipment
Excavated from the Arts Centre North Quad. Possibly used by Canterbury College students for the study of Chemistry
Underground Overground Archaeology collection

Archaeologists working on the Arts Centre site in Christchurch used their knowledge of the history of these buildings to help them interpret the objects they found. One interesting find was a selection of glass pipettes and test tubes buried in a rubbish pit in the North Quad.

The pit was near to the site of the first Canterbury College Chemistry building, and archaeologists believe the glassware may have been used by early Canterbury College students.

Known as the ‘Old Tin Shed’, that first Chemistry building was where Nobel prize winner Ernest Rutherford completed some of his studies. It was demolished in 1916 to make way for the Library.

Chemistry glassware, Underground Overground Archaeology
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