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Archaeology talk 20 years in the making

April 9 2013

Archaeology talk 20 years in the making

Development pressure along the Papamoa coastline in the 1990s brought the area’s archaeological features into sharp focus – an irony not wasted on Hamilton archaeologist, Warren Gumbley.

Now – almost two decades after the first subdivision work took place at Papamoa – Warren can look back on almost 20 years of involvement as an archaeologist working in the area, uncovering increasing amounts of the archaeological puzzle of Papamoa.

“Before the 1990s, it was generally believed that the Papamoa dune plain was a bit of a waste-land with very few archaeological features,” Warren recalls.

“As subdivision increased and more archaeological features were revealed, however, it became very clear that this archaeology was important for our understanding of the colonisation of New Zealand by Maori.”

Warren will talk about the unique archaeology of Papamoa – an area settled only a few generations after the first Polynesians arrived in New Zealand – at a public meeting organised by the NZ Historic Places Trust at the Papamoa Library on April 17 at 7pm. Admission is free and everybody is welcome.

“One of the most pressing issues facing the original settlers was the need to find soils and climates suitable for growing crops – particularly kumara and taro,” he says.

“They found what they needed at Papamoa.”

A charcoal-rich soil layer throughout the plain area is evidence that the settlers used fire to clear the forest and prepare the land for settlement and gardening. Over time, they moved back and forward over the area from the dunes to the hill pa depending on the time of year, and what they had to do.

“The nature of each small settlement on the Papamoa dune area appears to have been temporary, suggesting they were only occupied for between one and five years with varying intensity from season to season before being abandoned for a period,” he says.

“It’s likely that this down-time allowed the gardening soils to recover their nutrients.”

According to the archaeological record, the settlers’ diet was quite varied – fish such as mackerel, kahawai and barracouta – and other foods like cultivated vegetables, shell fish and wild plants.

A wide range of storage pits discovered over the years reflect the importance of being able to store food for survival, while numerous earth oven sites and other fire places show how food was prepared and cooked.

The rich archaeological pickings form middens – prehistoric rubbish dumps – will feature in Warren’s presentation, with historic refuse yielding all sorts of important artefacts and evidence, including stone sinkers for nets and fish lines highlighting the importance of fishing in the local economy.

A small adze made from argillite originating from the Nelson-Marlborough area also provides tantalising evidence that trade took place with other tribes from around the country.

“The archaeological features of Papamoa have much to teach us about the early history of settlement in this country. What happened here may well serve as a model for the development of the Maori economy away from its Pacific Islands home,” says Warran.

“We’ll be looking at these and many other fascinating aspects of life in Papamoa at the talk.”

The public talk will take place at the Papamoa Library’s Tohora Room, 15 Gravatt Road, Papamoa on April 17 at 7pm. Admission free, though bookings are recommended – contact the NZHPT’s Tauranga office on Ph 07-577-4530 or email


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