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Toilets from the only military barracks in Parramatta in the 1790s and Aboriginal artefacts dating back thousands of years are among the items found during preparations for Parramatta's Light Rail project.
The "unique" cesspits were part of the only military barracks in Parramatta in the 1790s, and to get a sample of the bricks and waste deposits in the soil "is really rare", she said.
"That's the joy in discovery in archaeology — you get a lot more than what you get in history books about who the people are, their day-to-day life.
"Nobody recorded where the toilets are."
The heritage dig at the corner of the park along Harris and George streets is part of the construction of the Parramatta Light Rail.
Ms Cryerhall and other archaeologists have been working at the site since August and have discovered "quite a rare collection" of artefacts from the early colonial period.
Chinese porcelain was popular in the 1790s and was traded globally.(Supplied: GML Heritage)The finds included a Wedgewood dinner set, buttons and several wine glasses, tumblers and rum bottles that were used for trading.
Broken pieces of Chinese porcelain were uncovered as well as pottery, believed to be some of the first locally produced in Sydney.
Among them were a carved bone lid, a stone eel or fish, as well as a handmade clay smoking pipe likely made by a convict who "stuck their thumb in it to make the hole".
"Those things are quite unusual and you don't get them from other sites," Ms Cryerhall said.
"They really connect you with people who might have been sitting by the river."
Stone carvings and pottery dating from 1790 to 1810 were found at Robin Thomas Reserve.(Supplied: Transport NSW / GML Heritage)Balancing heritage with constructionThe archaeologists from GML Heritage, which has been contracted by Transport NSW, have worked across several sites along the light rail route for the past seven months.
Community concerns about the preservation of Robin Thomas Reserve and the artefacts are prevalent in posts to the Parramatta Light Rail Facebook page.
Some users oppose the construction of the light rail, while others criticise the digs, claiming the historical items should be left where there are.
Ms Cryerhall said she appreciated the concerns and said her team had conducted a "very thorough archaeological investigation".
She said their methodology was agreed upon with Heritage NSW.
"Where we can keep things in situ, we've done that, but where we can't, we will remove the significant parts of that, so all the artefacts," Ms Cryerhall said.
"There is a balance with the light rail and with being able to investigate and do an archaeological study.
"It has provided an opportunity."
Ms Cryerhall said there were likely more artefacts and evidence of the barracks across the entire reserve.
Aboriginal land use 'intensified'The team has dug deeper in the past week, into the sand layers that hold Aboriginal heritage items.
Hardened mud stones, tools made from silcrete and stone artefacts believed to be about 8,000 years old were found.
Tim Owen, the project's head of Aboriginal archaeology, said the range of tools uncovered were used for wood working and processing animals and their skins.
"Between 7,000 and 240 years ago, Aboriginal people started living on landforms adjacent to the clay cliff creek, near where the rivers were flowing," Dr Owen said.
"Robin Thomas Reserve is one of those places. Aboriginal people were sitting down, working stone."
The small number of Aboriginal items uncovered indicates movement across the area thousands of years ago.(Supplied: GML Heritage)The number of artefacts found at the reserve is small compared to the thousands of items excavated from other locations in Parramatta, such as at Cumberland Hospital and Arthur Phillip High School.
Despite that, Dr Owen said the hardened mud stones and tools demonstrated that Aboriginal people started to occupy the land in Parramatta more intensively about 7,000 years ago.
One of the reasons, he said, could be that as the river system changed, the ecological resources might have increased and therefore brought people to the area.
When asked if a week was long enough for a thorough investigation of the heritage-listed site, Dr Owen said the excavation involved a "small proportion" of Robin Thomas Reserve and that they would have requested more time from Transport NSW if needed.
While few in number, the artefacts still carry a powerful cultural significance.
"Archaeology connects Aboriginal people to their traditions that have been forgotten," Dr Owen said.
"When they are able to reconnect, when you see youngsters holding these artefacts … and say, 'Our history is just as alive as the British colonial history', when you see the joy of holding these items, it's very powerful."
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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