Recovering the 'city below the one we've lost'

Archaeologists are running out of space to store thousands of items unearthed in earthquake-hit central Christchurch.

One archaeological firm has already filled a 12-metre-long shipping container with tens of thousands of artefacts.

The same company recently found hundreds of artefacts under the Isaac Theatre Royal. That haul includes bottles and ceramic shards, along with earthenware crucibles used by gold prospectors to separate metals.

Finds elsewhere in the city include an old rollerskate, Maori artefacts from before European settlement, gold prospector equipment, shards of ceramic plates and thousands of drink bottles.

Archaeologists have to be called in on any work within the four avenues that may disturb the ground, as well as for work on some pre-1900 residential sites.

Kirsa Webb, of Underground Overground Archaeology, said the firm had filled about 200 boxes with its finds, which filled a large shipping container. "We don't know what we're going to do with them."

The Theatre Royal site used to be a domestic rubbish pit, dating back to about the 1870s, Webb said.

"The most amazing thing we found were the crucibles. That was quite odd. We don't know why they were there," she said. "We didn't expect to find anything. Looking at old maps of the area from 1877, there were very few houses on that block."

Webb said they had found thousands of artefacts beneath the Occidental Hotel in Hereford St and the Oxford on Avon Hotel in Colombo St, including bottles.

Opus archaeologist Nicholas Cable said he had found Maori artefacts on a Mt Pleasant site and an old rollerskate beneath New Regent St, where a roller rink previously stood..

"We have got a storage unit that is filling up," he said.

"We may have lost one city, but there is another city underneath that we are uncovering."

New Zealand Historic Places Trust archaeologist Frank van der Heijden said artefacts belonged to the owners of sites where they were found. Maori artefacts belong to the Crown and are given to the relevant iwi.

The Press