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Archaeology uncovered at Athenree open day

August 1, 2014

Archaeology uncovered at Athenree open day

Archaeologists working on the Athenree Homestead have uncovered a number of features associated with the earliest days of the landmark Western Bay of Plenty building.

The team of archaeologists found what appeared to be original plough marks from where the Stewart family first worked the land about 135 years ago and the foundations of what may have been the original stables, which were later incorporated into the homestead.

“It’s been a productive excavation uncovering a range of features including the foundations of a building that appears not to have been recorded in the diary of Adela Stewart, the wife of Captain Hugh Stewart who built Athenree shortly after arriving in New Zealand in 1878,” says Heritage New Zealand’s Lower Northern Regional Archaeologist, Rachel Darmody.

“This will certainly add to our knowledge about Athenree Homestead and the farm.”

The team of archaeologists, led by Brigid Gallagher with support from Heritage New Zealand, also found a repurposed Maori midden, evidence of possible early mechanised gardening, what may have been the smithy attached to the old post office and plenty of artefacts, including a harness buckle, a musket ball and even a sconce [bracket used for holding a candle] from the piano.

The week of excavations culminated in a public Open Day, where about 80 people were able to watch the archaeologists at work, with some lucky punters also allowed to take part in the excavation itself under supervision.

“We’ve had some really good feedback from people who attended the Open Day,” says Rachel.

“It’s really stimulated local interest in archaeology, and the history of Athenree homestead in particular.”

The archaeological excavation came about as a result of plans to locate an historic railway station building to the rear of Athenree Homestead for use as a catering centre. An archaeological authority from Heritage New Zealand was needed before earthworks could begin as the property, which predates 1900, is an archaeological site under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act.

“It seemed like a good opportunity to excavate this particular part of the Athenree Homestead in line with the earthworks that were required for the building relocation,” she says.

“Other excavation work around the house has been carried out in previous years – so this additional work will really give us a detailed picture of how Athenree functioned.”

Chair of the Athenree Homestead Trust, Trish Coates, is delighted with the way the excavation and Open Day went.

“We’ve had tremendous interest from the community in the excavation, and the different aspects of Athenree’s history that have come to light as a result,” she says.


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