The archaeologists here at Wairau Bar continue to amaze me with their cleverness. It really is impressive how they see things on a completely different level, and can deduce all kinds of information from the areas they are excavating, first with the naked eye, and later once they have analyzed all the data collected from each area. The ongoing digging of Area 1 provides a good example of this. If you’ve been reading the earlier posts, you may recall this pit is designated as a repatriation site, and when excavation began (it seems like a long time ago now) it appeared to have very little archaeological material in it – which was kind of the idea in the first place. At first it seemed like there may just be the remains of a few old fires, but over the last week, as they have painstakingly peeled away each layer, a whole other picture has emerged.
Archive Page 2
Our media open day went fantastically well yesterday – we invited crews from TVNZ, TV3, Prime and Maori Television to come onto the site, and everyone was delighted that the media were so interested in what we are doing. Of course the giant killer eagle really attracted a lot of attention, but all the news items mentioned the real reason for why we are here – preparing for the repatriation of the Rangitane tupuna. Thanks to everyone who came out to visit us – we really enjoyed having you here and you all did a great job.
On a lighter note, most of the team got their 2 seconds of fame and made it into the news items – including me by accident. I generally prefer to remain of the other side of the camera, but if you look carefully at the very beginning of the TVNZ story, there’s some dude sitting next to Alexi O’Brien in the boat wearing a funny hat – yours truly. My Mum was very excited!!!. There was a flurry of phone-calls from lots of other proud Mums and family to everyone else as well, which we all got a giggle out of.
Geoff Moffett from Radio New Zealand was also here – he will be on the radio on Monday morning doing a story on us during the Summer Report segment.
Have a great weekend everyone,
You can find the TV3 news story here
One News here
a segment on Te Karere in Maori here
and the Prime news story here (we’re about 7:49 into the bulletin)
Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei) was the largest bird of prey that ever existed on Planet Earth – an enormous raptor with a wingspan pushing 3 metres (that’s 10 feet) and claws the size of a tiger’s (around 75 mm or 3 inches long). Actually they were basically flying tigers in a way – top of the food chain predators that hunted and killed another giant New Zealand bird – the moa. The largest moas were over 3 metres tall and weighed around 250kg, yet they were easy prey for Haast’s Eagle – enormous moa pelvis bones have been found with twin sets of claw marks in them – proof that Haast’s Eagle could take down anything that walked through the forests of New Zealand – including people.
I’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.
The archaeological team here at Wairau Bar has been bolstered by the arrival of Hans Bader, a field archaeologist from Auckland, and some pretty impressive technology. One of the big problems about digging here is the sheer scale of the site – the Bar itself is 8 kilometres long, and although the main settlement we are interested in appears to be centred around the northern end, there’s still a lot of ground to cover – it’s at least 8 hectares in area (80,000 square metres, or about 12 rugby fields!) – and it may well be twice that size.
The Bar’s strategic location between ocean, river and lagoon meant it was surrounded by food sources – in the ocean were kahawhai, red cod, dolphin, barracuda, mussels and snapper (interestingly the water was apparently much warmer back then, so although snapper are now rare this far south they were common all those centuries ago). Stranded whales may not have been eaten, but their bones and teeth would have been valuable materials for making things with.
Archaeologists were stunned by what Jim Eyles and Roger Duff uncovered at the ancient Wairau Bar settlement when they began excavating in 1942. Nothing like it had been discovered in New Zealand before – and nothing has been found since. It was obvious right from the beginning that this was a large, ancient settlement, as old as any found throughout the country, and that unlike many other “moa hunter” sites which were temporary or seasonal hunting camps, people had lived at Wairau Bar permanently enough to bury their dead here, with a range of taonga and burial offerings unmatched by any other burials ever recorded.