Historic artefacts found at local site

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Uncovering a moa hunting site is an archaeologist’s dream and for a team excavating at Awamoa Creek, the material and evidence found has been vital to understanding the coast’s history.

The site is visibly being eroded by the ocean so Te Runanga o Moeraki requested that the site be excavated to rescue the cultural material.

Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust field officer Brian Allingham said the material found can show how the people lived, the technology they were using to live and what they ate.

“We will gain knowledge of the people that were living on this site,” he said.

“This is a salvage excavation before it erodes away, which is going to happen.”

Visible coal layers demonstrate where the people were cooking their food, by steaming it, said Mr Allingham.

“These fires have been lit and this site is heated up like an oven, or an umu,” he said.

Mr Allingham said they had already collected a number of Moa egg shell samples, hunting tools, artefacts and Moa bones, which will be carbon dated.

“It is a special site,” he said.

“It’s also a special site in historical terms.”

The first archaeological excavation in the South Island took place at Awamoa Creek, by Walter Mantell in 1852.

David Harrowfield then excavated test squares at the site in 1958, finding the remains of ovens, containing fragments of Moa bone, eggshells and stones.

“There is a lot of Moa bone here,” said Mr Allingham.

He said they have now returned because the modern development in carbon dating will uncover a lot more information from the samples taken from the site.

He said there was a reasonably large population of Moa in the area, varying in size.

“We are finding the larger birds here,” he said.

The samples they are taking are only a very small part of a large site and there will be similar sites all along the coast line.

Department of Conservation Otago historic technical advisor Shar Briden said the team was constantly excited about what they were finding.

“It’s nearly 1000 years old,” she said.

“It’s so exciting for somebody that’s in archaeology.”

The excavation ends today, with the samples being taken to the lab for further investigation.

By Jessie Waite