Archaeologists home in on Australia's lost 'clachan'

April 14, 2016, Flinders University
An Irish-style cottage on Baker’s Flat in the nineteenth century. Credit: P Swann, photographer unknown.

The lure of a hidden Irish settlement near Kapunda has been drawing Susan Arthure back to Baker's Flat for a long time – and this week, she plans on finally finding it.

It's quite a distance, in years and kilometres, from her old desk at South Australia's Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources on Adelaide's Grenfell Street, to the dig Ms Arthure is overseeing at Baker's Flat near Kapunda this week.

But that's nothing compared to the length of time that the story of the Irish settlers at Baker's Flat has remained hidden from the world, buried under green grass and ochre coloured soil, so far away from their homes back on the Emerald Isle.

It's a fascinating experience to hear the Flinders University archaeologist, who since downing her keyboard and picking up her trowel has received widespread recognition for her work, describe the lives of a community for the most part lost to the mists of time.

Previous archaeological work at Baker's Flat has uncovered a treasure trove of broken china, religious medals, belt buckles, dog licence tags and buttons from which she is able to weave a compelling narrative of a vibrant community playing a significant role in South Australia.

Archaeologists home in on Australia’s lost ‘clachan’
Susan Arthure in the field at Baker’s Flat

And not just any community, but a traditional Irish 'clachan' that thrived in South Australia as the clachans in Ireland died out following the Great Famine and the subsequent brutal land clearances.

A recent geophysical survey of Baker's Flat, painstakingly undertaken by Ms Arthure and her fellow Flinders archaeologists, who manually dragged their heavy equipment up and down the flat hundreds of times, has given her real hope that she will find her elusive clachan.

Straight lines of buried rock suggest enclosures in the style of a Clachan, where once Irish people protected their crops behind walls as their livestock roamed free; while compact squares look very much like they could be the floors of homes that were rich in copper slag from the local mines.

Combined with the surveys, archival evidence and artefacts found already, a full picture of the settlement is finally emerging.

Perhaps it's in her blood, because she hails from Ireland herself, but the calls of the Irish community lost to history at Baker's flat have been long and strong for Susan Arthure.

"Come look for us," they have called. "Tell the world about us. Remember us."

This week, if her heart is right, and her findings true, Susan Arthure and her team will finally uncover their lost home.

Explore further: Uncovering the Irish story of Baker's Flat

Related Stories

New lizard named after Sir David Attenborough

August 3, 2015

A research team led by Dr Martin Whiting from the Department of Biological Sciences recently discovered a beautifully coloured new species of flat lizard, which they have named Platysaurus attenboroughi, after Sir David Attenborough.

Possible second Viking site discovered in North America

April 4, 2016

A team of archeologists has found what may be the remains of a previously unknown Viking settlement on a south west shore of the Island of Newfoundland. If the remains can be confirmed, the site would make it just the second ...

USDA to approve Simplot's genetically engineered potato

August 28, 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a potato genetically engineered by Idaho-based J.R. Simplot Co. to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine and that still damages crops around the world.

Recommended for you

Squid could provide an eco-friendly alternative to plastics

February 21, 2019

The remarkable properties of a recently-discovered squid protein could revolutionize materials in a way that would be unattainable with conventional plastic, finds a review published in Frontiers in Chemistry. Originating ...

Female golden snub-nosed monkeys share nursing of young

February 21, 2019

An international team of researchers including The University of Western Australia and China's Central South University of Forestry and Technology has discovered that female golden snub-nosed monkeys in China are happy to ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.