A most significant find

prettyI’ve already talked about why archaeologists don’t like Indiana Jones – he gives the impression that the main goal of archaeology is to swipe spectacular treasures from under the noses of angry natives, make a few wise-cracks, and escape back to “civilization” with the crystal skull, magic stones or whatever, which then end up in a glass case at a museum – mission accomplished. While there have been some amazing artefacts recovered at Wairau Bar, such as the whale-tooth taonga I talked about in earlier posts, the most valuable and meaningful discoveries at an archaeological dig are often subtle and not necessarily beautiful objects that you can hold in your hand.

This was the case with a discovery the team have made in area #2 – something that has the archaeologists (quietly) excited. In my first excavation update I showed you an area of stones with pieces of adze lying on top :


Right next to it, we’ve found a most unnatural line of darker soil, that intersects another one at a perfect right angle :


It’s not the easiest thing to show in a photo – here’s a version with some helpful guidelines :


This is almost certainly a very rare find in New Zealand – the remains of an ancient structure. Only two others of this age have ever been found in New Zealand – one at Palliser Bay across the Cook Strait from us near Wellington, and the other at another site at the mouth of the Rakaia River, further down the east coast of the South Island.


Wood or other vegetation doesn’t tend to last very long when it’s buried, especially after 700-odd years, so what we are left with are faint traces in the ground of where the walls once were and where post holes were dug. This discovery also gives new meaning to the area where the pieces of adze were found nearby – the flat area of rocks they were on top of was deliberately put there, like cobble stones, to provide a working surface for a craftsman to make adzes  – kind of a back porch in a way. It’s amazing to think that around 700 years ago, one of Wairau Bar’s residents sat down by his whare (house), on a “cobblestoned” area  already worn smooth by the feet of himself and his whanau,  and chipped away at making an adze, leaving the debris and an unfinished stone tool on top, which lay untouched and undisturbed for many centuries until we uncovered it. It’s exactly the kind of thing we had hoped to find – evidence of how these tupuna (ancestors) lived their day to day lives.


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