The discovery of a cluster of six midden pits by a Hawke’s Bay Regional Council asset management team west of Napier is the largest archaeologists have encountered in the region.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Māori Partnerships’ Te Kaha Hawaikirangi says the middens were discovered along a 1km stretch of stopbank on Springfield Road during a repair and restoration project.
Samples of the contents and soil have been taken for carbon dating, but estimates suggest they are from the mid-1800s.
Middens were traditionally used by Māori for domestic waste, usually consisting of animal bones, shells, glass and ceramic artifacts, charcoal from fires, hangi stones and other traces from a settlement.
Mr Hawaikirangi says engaging mana whenua to work with archaeologists was instrumental in creating a new process for handling midden discoveries in the future.
“We worked with Heritage New Zealand who authorised the Regional Council to undertake works on the site. Throughout that authorisation process, we also engaged with mana whenua to provide a Cultural Values Report of the sites,” he said.
Kaitiaki/guardians worked alongside the archaeologist to identify, photograph and measure what was in the middens.
“It is essential to have this cultural input from mana whenua, particularly for future discoveries because these middens are rich in history and give us an insight into how our ancestors lived here in Hawke’s Bay,” said Mr Hawaikirangi.
While no toki/adze were found in the middens, a large number of shells and hangi stones were located, indicating food pits used by mana whenua from the area and/or groups transiting up and down the Tūtaekurī River.
The middens the repair team could excavate around and not disturb, were left in situ. Others were moved to a location nearby on the site, their contents buried and covered with geotextile fabric, a special woven and robust fabric that will protect the pits should any future excavation take place. The middens’ locations have also been mapped as significant archaeological sites.
“The Regional Council is committed to making connections with mana whenua and this project, where iwi monitors and kaitiaki worked alongside Heritage New Zealand archaeologists, is a proactive way we can do that. It has created a blueprint for the future,” says Mr Hawaikirangi.