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Hand-turned timber the heart of China gift

The first of the treasure chests holding hand-made gifts by talented Hastings craftsmen are about to be sent to the regions in China taking part in the Amazing China-Hastings Year of Tourism 2019. They are being blessed by Kaumatua Jerry Hapuku this week.

The Hastings project is part of the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism, designed to increase cultural understanding and relationships between the two countries, leading to expanded tourism and trade opportunities. Hastings and all of the participating regions in China are exchanging chests, with the China gifts becoming the focus of a competition for Hastings secondary school students. They will need to match the gifts to their home regions in China, with the first three to complete the task winning trips to China.

The gifts inside the chests have been carefully selected by Hastings District councillor and project director Kevin Watkins.

Nestled in each chest is a small hand-crafted wooden bowl set on a kauri plinth. “The 33 bowls, each individually hand-turned are an incredible contribution of time and commitment to the project from the members of Hawke’s Bay Woodturners’ Guild,” says Mr Watkins. “Each one has a different maker and they are all made from timbers that grow here in Hawke’s Bay. It is a unique gift, highlighting the beautiful characteristics of the various timbers.”

Carbon dating

“The story of the kauri plinths is amazing as well,” says Mr Watkins. The timber, sourced from Northland, has been carbon-dated as being older than 50,000 years. “To know that the kauri tree that this timber comes from was growing here in New Zealand some 45,000 years

before the civilisation of China will create a lot of interest in China.”

The carbon dating was done at the GNS Science’s Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, Lower Hutt. The dating process is fascinating, says Mr Watkins. A timber sample about the size of a fingernail – weighing just 40 milligrams – was all that was needed for GNS scientists to assess the timber’s age.

GNS Science laboratory manager Margaret Norris confirms that the wood is at least 50,000 years old. “In fact, the wood is so old that it is beyond accurate measurement of carbon dating so may be even older than this. “This is not surprising given kauri logs can be preserved in swamps for tens of thousands of years before being found and processed into timber.”

The chest also holds a recognised taonga of New Zealand, a polished paua shell.

Accompanying the chests, which have been handmade from recycled rimu by a Hastings craftsman, is a fabric map of New Zealand, pinpointing Hastings, and video of some of the district’s most beautiful sites, says Mr Watkins. “China is about to become the top source of tourists to New Zealand. Chinese travellers are now much more independent than they traditionally have been, and we want them to know where our beautiful district is and that we welcome them.”

The Amazing China-Hastings Year of Tourism is officially supported by Minster of Tourism Kelvin Davis, Tourism New Zealand and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.


Prepared for The Amazing China Hastings Year of Tourism by:

Diane Joyce: 021 612270; email: joycecomms@outlook.com

Carbon-dating backgrounder courtesy of GNS Science

The Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory is the oldest continuously operating radiocarbon dating laboratory in the world. Sited in Lower Hutt, the lab specialises in radiocarbon measurement which is used for a wide variety of applications – from dating the age of earthquake fault ruptures to determining fossil CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and verifying the authenticity of archaeological antiques. The lab has an international reputation for the quality of its work and has dated more than 60,000 samples since opening.

The radiocarbon dating process:

All living things contain the element carbon. Carbon is ingested by plants through photosynthesis and by humans and animals through the consumption of plants, water and air. Carbon occurs naturally in three forms (isotopes): Carbon-12, Carbon-13 and Carbon-14 (14C). Carbon-14 is a rare type of carbon atom that is radioactive, meaning it decays and “breaks down” over time. While an organism is alive it maintains a constant amount of radiocarbon in its body but when it dies the radiocarbon “stored” in the organism starts to decay away.

Carbon dating works by estimating how much radiocarbon was in the organism when it was alive and measuring how much is left in sample now. Because radiocarbon decays at a known rate, scientists can measure the amount remaining in the organism to determine how old it is.

In the lab, samples are treated to remove contamination and then undergo various chemical processes. These processes convert the carbon of the sample into the form of pure graphite so that the radiocarbon content can be measured. A machine called an accelerator mass spectrometer blasts the sample through magnets which separate and measure the amount of radiocarbon remaining, from which the time passed since the organism died is calculated.


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