Thousands of historical relics found in Christchurch shine light on past

Thousands of historical relics have been found in Christchurch. The objects have lain undisturbed for the past 170 years, and were found when a vacant lot was being prepared for construction.

There are 55 boxes filled with thousands of artefacts dating back to the 1850s - fine china, old bottles and lots and lots of shoes.

"There's definitely going to be hundreds of individual fragments," says Underground Overground Archaeology artefact specialist Clara Watson.

Finding leather boots isn't completely unexpected as a boot factory used to operate there, but what was a surprise was their condition.

"They're very well preserved. We've got boot uppers and even things like wee bits of laces. You can still see them being threaded through the eyelets which you don't always get," Watson says.

The relics were unearthed when a site was being prepared for construction of the new Court Theatre. Some were found down a brick-lined well.

"The site was developed in the 20th century and buildings were constructed over these features and somehow the foundations of these buildings just managed to miss them," Watson says.

Even Christchurch's earthquakes didn't disturb them.

"And we're now getting to dig them up and have a look at Christchurch's past," Watson says.

In the 1850s the area was the main commercial centre of the city. Each artefact has its own story. Ceramic plates show there was once a fancy goods store here, but a clay smoking pipe bears one of the more significant tales.

"Inspired by the Indian mutiny of 1857, it's quite a confronting artefact and very graphic and it really speaks to the British colonial view of those events," Watson says.

The artefacts provide a snapshot of New Zealand that experts say is not well identified throughout New Zealand.

"Looking at this material gives us insight into how they lived the conditions they were living in, the presence of men, women and children on sites," Underground Overground Archaeology managing director Hayden Cawte says.

Each object will now be washed and analysed. Uncovering the past of these European settlers is only just getting started.