A major historical find has been unearthed at Arrowtown’s Chinese Village.
This month, a team of senior heritage advisers, archaeologists and heritage rangers from Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation (DoC) spent a week painstakingly uncovering almost 40-year-old excavations from around the historic site.
Senior heritage adviser Dr Matthew Schmidt says archaeologist Dr Neville Ritchie handled the first excavations of 25 sites, before the village opened in 1988, but there’s subsequently been natural build-up and some damage by visitors.
Intending to uncover those excavations, Schmidt says they got a ‘‘real surprise’’ to discover six lead ingots in what was Tin Pan’s hut.
The early Chinese settler grew produce and walked around the village with his bamboo stick, selling it.
Schmidt says when the DoC team was working on his hut earlier this month, they took up a tree stump that had grown through his back wall, unearthing the oval-shaped lead ingots, each about 15cm long, and a ‘‘burning area’’ inside the hut.
‘‘It was like someone had dug a bit into … the ground, melted lead and then poured it into these moulds.
‘‘Neville was telling me the Chinese would collect lead, from old bullets and things like that, melt it and use it to solder, for making fireworks or other things.
‘‘Talking to Neville and looking at it, there were bits of lead found in other huts when he excavated, so this is quite a major find,’’ he says.
Schmidt, who describes the find as ‘‘a real surprise’’, believes they’re the largest ingots found on any of the Chinese sites.
They’re now with DoC in Dunedin where they’ll be cleaned, weighed and photographed.
Meantime, Schmidt says the DoC team will be returning to the Chinese Village where they plan to uncover more sites and restore part of Ah Nue’s hut.
While not much is known about the early miner, who also lived in the settlement till the early 20th century before moving on, the team has photographs of the original chimney from his hut and, perhaps remarkably, all the original stone from it.
Unearthing history: Te Papa Atawhai Department of Conservation staffers, Jim Croawell, back left, and Jovan Andric, back right, with, front row, from left, Tom Barker, Brooke Jamieson and Matthew Schmidt, pictured at Arrowtown’s Chinese Village this month
‘‘Thousands and thousands of people have gone through that site, and it’s just like the sites you get overseas — it’s why they stopped people going to places around the Greek, Roman and Egypt sites — people knock the stone and eventually … it just falls off.
‘‘What we found, the stone essentially just collapsed right below where the chimney was.
‘‘There’s some extra stone we’ll use to do some repairs, but we’ve definitely got all the stone that was there originally.’’
Schmidt hopes to either complete that project next March or this time next year.
They’re also establishing ‘‘protective barriers’’ around some of the huts which have been exposed, with plans to install bench seats, or similar, inside some huts, and information panels nearby so people can safely interact with the historical sites and appreciate their history.
‘‘If people have more of an understanding of a place, they respect it more.’’