New dig findings

Date posted: 11 December 2012

An archaeological dig at Adelaide Gaol is helping to shed light on its inmates and on some of the state’s first white settlers.

The dig got underway after volunteers discovered a cement slab had fallen through the wooden floor, revealing what they thought could be a secret passage. DEWNR called in the South Australian Museum experts to investigate.

A large section of the cement floor in the old women’s cell block has been cut away, allowing South Australian Museum archaeologist Keryn Walshe and a group of volunteers to sift through the under-floor fill.

Keryn said they had already made some interesting discoveries and hoped to add to them as the excavations progressed.

“We’ve found items that could have been used by the prisoners, including a couple of rings, needles, buttons and thimbles,” she said.

“Further down, we’ve found pieces of china much too delicate for a gaol.

“When the first white settlers arrived in Adelaide, many were living in tents and wooden huts along the Torrens, so it’s very likely that they brought this china with them from England.

“We’ve even found some Aboriginal stone tools that were probably scooped as part of the rock fill.”

Built in 1841, state heritage listed Adelaide Gaol is one of the two oldest public buildings in South Australia and is managed by DEWNR’s Adelaide Region.

It was added to over the years and the buildings had various uses throughout their history.

Several layers of flooring are visible in the excavation, along with red-brick arches that may have been for stability and old dividing walls.

The under-floor fill itself is also of interest, ranging from high-quality bluestone to locally-made bricks and even coking coal, an expensive imported fuel that suggests there may have been an old forge on the site.

At the front of the trench and about 700mm below floor level is a section of green cement floor that once supported a furnace.

“We’re very keen to cut through that to see what’s underneath,” Keryn said.