Plotting the Past – part 2

sunset2Kia Ora,

Well, things are moving very fast at the excavations now. We’re into our final week and the clock is very much ticking.  The sites for the April repatriation have been decided and are being explored for archaeological material – and there’s no shortage of that.  Yesterday I showed you how much information can be gleaned from just one small stone adze – imagine what we can find out from a 5×5 metre square. That adze is the only intact one we have found so far, but even a small piece of stone chipped off during adze-making or a blackened hangi rock is valuable in its own way – especially the location in which they are found. Area 1 has become covered in  small flags, tent pegs and rather strangely kebab sticks as the team discover hundreds and hundreds of stone flakes and oven stones and carefully mark the exact position in which each was found.


I thought this was a bit odd when I first saw the archaeologists doing it, but after they explained what exactly they were up to, and what they could tell from this small forest of kebabs it all made sense and turned out to be rather clever. The two main types of things that are being measured are features – like fire pits, the remains of buildings and middens – and artefacts like stone flakes and adzes.  As each layer is uncovered, one of the archaeologists carefully draws the location of each feature, and the exact location of every artefact is recorded using the same laser-guided robotic theodolite (Total Station) I talked about in earlier posts. When all of this information is put together in a computer  and plotted on a map, lots of interesting things emerge.

richard_andy1The hand-drawn diagrams and computer-recorded locations of artefacts are all put together into what’s called a site plan. The latest site plan for area 1 looks like this (click to make bigger) :

site-plan1As you can see, there’s a lot there! The major feature that runs right up the middle of the map is a really significant find –  an area of round rocks that have been deliberately laid down like cobblestones and used as a kind of workshop surface to make adzes on. As you can see by all the little blue dots, there are thousands of adze flakes lying across it – but although they may look just randomly scattered, there are patterns that can tell us exactly how this “adze factory” was used. Even the blank patch of the right of the plan is significant.

Here’s another version of the site plan with some labels and interpretation (click to make bigger):

site-plan-2If the post holes on the right hand side are joined up, the big blank area is explained – it’s where a building or whare was situated, so that’s why there’s no adze flakes there. The paved area can then be explained as a “paepae” – a platform built around the outside of a house for use as a working area. Paepae are a common feature in East Polynesia, where they are made from coral or rock, but nothing on this scale has been excavated in a New Zealand site before – yet another link between the people who lived at Wairau Bar and their original home in the Pacific. (The word paepae has a slightly different meaning in Maori – it means the bench at the front of a meeting house where people about to speak sit, which I guess is still a kind of working area!)

The main concentration of adze flakes spreads out in a kind of fan, and from that we can make a good guess as to the exact spot where that adze maker sat, 700 years ago, chipping away at his work.  We could even say with some certainly that he was right-handed – adzes are “flaked” by striking the adze with a very hard piece of rock called a hammerstone, which sends large flakes off in one direction, and smaller ones flying in the other. All the big ones are on the left, small ones on the other side so he must have been using his right hand to strike.

Behind the adze maker, at the bottom of the paepae, is a pile of broken adze fragments – either ones that have broken during construction and thrown over his shoulder, or a kind of “recycling bin” of pieces that can be reworked into something else. All the fires found in this area are all shallow pits and have no sign of food scraps, so they were probably just for heat and light. The one  in the middle of all the adze fragments and right in front of where our adze maker sat must have been his desklamp!

What we have found in Area 1 is  exactly the kind of discovery the archaeologists from the University of Otago were after – small but significant details about what day to day life was like for these ancestors, and how their 700 year-old village functioned. Thanks to what we’re finding, this amazing and important community is alive again…



3 Responses to “Plotting the Past – part 2”

  1. 1 Dan
    January 20, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    We are into our final week! That is so sad! What other treasures lie below the surface?
    There seems to have been a spirit of reconciliation this week between local iwi and the museum folk. I trust it extends further to some locals who still seem to receive the cold shoulder for decisions made two generations ago.

  2. 2 Jay
    January 21, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    It is not surprising so much adze material is being found. The people of the Wairau Bar were digging kilometers of canal just across from the Bar. The 600 year old canals can be seen on Google Earth today. The adze being found are ideal for canal digging. This has not been mentioned so far and any report on this dig will be incomplete if an exploration of the canals is not included.

  3. 3 wairau
    January 21, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Hi Jay you’re absolutely right. I’ve been saving this part of the story until I can get up onto the Bluffs and take photos to show the whole lagoon system. Am hoping to get up there tomorrow morning and write a post about it in the next couple of days.

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