Archaeologists finding ghosts of mourners past

NationalArchaeologyWeekGhosts of one of Brisbane’s oldest cemeteries are being pursued today as part of National Archaeology Week. Volunteers under the supervision of professional archaeologists are digging in the dead heart of Brisbane, in search of lost headstones.

Paddington Cemetery operated from 1844 to 1875 as Brisbane’s main cemetery. Today the location is one of Australia’s great sporting grounds Lang Park. But a century ago, around 500 headstones were relocated and eventually removed. It’s believed that the memorials were broken up and buried here at nearby Toowong Cemetery, and that’s what we’re searching for today.

ThomasWillsHeadstoneThe perfectly intact black marble headstone of Thomas Wills of Paddington has been found. He died 106 years ago, and was buried along with his wife Annie here at Toowong, so this isn’t exactly what we’re after. However, no doubt their descendants, and those of their late public servant son Robert, will be pleased.

Volunteer amateur archaeologists this morning unearthed beautifully detailed porcelain doves and flowers. They will be housed in the museum of the Friends of Toowong Cemetery which is the organisation that’s helping run today’s dig.

I’m told that someone found a 1942 Australian florin coin last year. That’s a nice big coin made of sterling silver, possibly lost during the Second World War. I enquired about the large piles of earth spoil that are accumulating, are they being sieved or metal detected for other relics?

PorcelainDoves“But what would you find?” the head archaeologist asked. I suggested memorial lead lettering, coins, bullets, buckles, badges, anything metal. “But that’s not what we’re looking for.”

Oh well, no metal detecting today. Whatever the earth-moving equipment reveals to breath fresh air for the first time in a century, if it’s not spotted on the surface by eagle-eyed children, then it will be buried again and eventually corrode and be lost forever with the memories they hold.

Importantly, the public awareness of the work of Australian archaeology is being increased, and the family of Thomas Wills will be pleased.

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