The archaeologist uses the artifacts and remains found on archaeological sites to reveal details about everyday life, the living and working conditions in historical communities. When we put the historical and archaeological evidence together, we are sometimes privileged enough to gain an insight and understanding of the life changing decisions made by individuals or groups.
Through the archaeological excavation of a wide range of buildings in Cadia Village in 2002, it was possible to observe the variation in social and economic position held by a number of individuals and families in the Cadia community. At the bottom of the ladder were some of the single miners, who lived a frugal existence in the miners’ huts. Slightly better off were the miners, who could bring their families with them. None of these individuals appear to have been literate and in some cases the children may have been deprived of an education, which would have condemned them to a similar life of poverty and hardship.
Some of the miners and their families were in a more fortunate position. Those having more senior positions at the mine enjoyed a level of affluence similar to mine management, the clergy, the shopkeepers and the hotelkeepers. They were the ones who could afford to educate their children and who could eventually hope to purchase land and settle down.
This dichotomy between the “haves” and the “have nots” was visible in the archaeological remains and artifact assemblages. The “haves” occupied larger buildings, often with multiple outbuildings, and used a much wider range of objects in and around their households. The “have nots” usually lived in small buildings, the miners’ huts, perhaps with an outdoor toilet nearby and had the use of only a small range of objects. The characteristics of the two groups are summarised in Table 1.
Archaeologists catalogue all the artifacts they find, giving a brief description and identifying a use for each object. These uses or functions are divided up into a number of categories and can be put into more general groups, like “capital assets”, “disposable income” or “income producing resources”. In each case, the “haves” possess greater opportunities through access to a greater range of goods and services.
When the results for a number of sites or households are compared, we can begin to understand the range of opportunities available to the members of the Cadia community. We can begin to understand the reasons behind the life changing decisions they made, when the mine closed in 1868.
The poorer miners and their families would have been forced to leave and find work elsewhere. They could leave their wives and children behind at first, so that the children might continue their education, but eventually they would be forced to depart. They could afford no other choice.
The more senior miners or smelters could do the same – they could leave to find work elsewhere – but they could also afford to settle on the land, if they wished. This is clearly revealed by the analysis of the assemblages, since they fall into the group that could afford to purchase property or at least were within the threshold between property rental and ownership.
For mine management, the clergy, the hotelkeepers and shopkeepers, the opportunity to own land and property was clearly available to them, although it was also just as possible to lose one’s wealth through bankruptcy, as indicated by the situation of some of the storekeepers, William Smyth Blood and Benjamin Derrett.
When we compare the assemblages from Cadia Village with two examples of farms in the Cadia hinterland, we can clearly see that the farmers are within the threshold between property rental and ownership. If they were going to prosper on the land, they would need to purchase neighbouring land and expand the farm to become a more economically viable unit. We can see that the inhabitants of Waringa and Tynan’s Slaughterhouse were actually unable to do this.