One of New Zealand’s earliest human settlements revealed

Long Lunch 24/05/2018
The re-opened 1981 site. Photo: Heritage NZ.

Moturua Island is now home to evidence of one of New Zealand’s first Polynesian settlements established some 800 years ago.

A 2017 excavation of a site in Mangahawea Bay (located on the island’s west coast) uncovered teeth of kurī, bits of obsidian, and a hāngī full of moa, seal bones, and huge snapper jaws.

Senior DoC ranger Andrew Blanshard said the team was “very fortunate” to find the rock-lined hāngī, which measured 5 by just over 2 metres.

The hāngī’s massive size suggests how big the site really was, Mr Blanshard told RadioLIVE.

A shell pendant from an earlier excavation has not been successfully identified by any shell experts in New Zealand, suggesting that the site belonged to Polynesian settlers.

“Even if it is a New Zealand shell, all of the elements within in fit into the early styles we see in the very early sites in New Zealand,” Mr Blanshard said.

Stones lining the hangi. Photo: Heritage NZ.

Mr Blanshard, who is based in the Bay of Islands, was told back in 2006 about an archaeological site on Moturua Island by several local hapu members while putting in a new track in the region.

After doing some investigating, Mr Blanchard found old notes from an excavation completed in 1981 with artefacts including a moa bone, a limpet, and the shell pendant.

The site site in Mangahawea Bay. Photo: Heritage NZ.

“There was just enough in old field notebooks and people’s heads to suggest that this site was quite significant,” he told RadioLIVE.

Putting his head together with archaeologist James Robinson, the local hapu of Ngāti Kuta and Patukeha, and scientists from Otago University, the team applied for a re-vist to the old archaeological site. Once approved, they began the exciting excavation. 

 “It is a fascinating site,” he said. 

Listen to the full interview with Andrew Blanshard above. 

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.