Unearthing the Old Adelaide Gaol

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A variety of items found at the Old Adelaide Gaol dig.

In 2008 Senior Research Scientist in Archaeology Dr Keryn Walshe went below the floorboards under the Women’s Prison at the Old Adelaide Gaol.

She looked at the original ground surface and noticed glass and pottery — very nice ceramics, in fact. It struck her as odd that prisoners would have such fine pottery, and she was keen for a closer look.

There was no need to excavate as she was already under the floor, and the items were sitting on the surface. She swept across the surface and came away with artefacts which told a fascinating story.

The pottery and glass was later determined to be from early settlers, who had made their mark long before the prison was built on that site. It had effectively been sealed by the building, and left undisturbed since the 1840s, with some items dating back to the early 1800s.

Keryn also found other items, including sheep bones, buttons, needles, pins and other sewing equipment.

The items found reflect the early years of settlement in South Australia, and confirm reports that residents first settled along the banks of the River Torrens.