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Gaming Tokens Unearthed at Australia’s Port Arthur Penitentiary

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Tasmania gaming tokens PORT ARTHUR, TASMANIA—An excavation behind the nineteenth-century penitentiary building at the Port Arthur Historic Site, in an area where the washroom, toilets, and day room were located, has uncovered lead and ceramic tokens that may have been used by the inmates for gambling and trading. “The official history tells us convicts didn’t gamble—that it was heavily controlled—but accounts from convicts themselves told of this black market economy going on where services and rations are all being traded between themselves and gambling and gaming would have been part of that,” archaeologist Richard Tuffin told The Mercury. Tuffin explained that the inmates probably took the lead from the workshops that were located on the other side of the penitentiary, and shaped and inscribed it to produce tokens in different denominations. The ceramic tokens were made from willow ware plates. “Those convicts who weren’t out working in the gangs could come in and they would have had time to themselves, although heavily supervised. Artifact-wise, we’re also finding quite a lot of clay smoking pipes,” he added. For more on the archaeology of Australian prisons, go to "Alone, but Closely Watched."

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