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Wairarapa archaeological sites updated

18 December 2009


Wairarapa archaeological sites updated

A five-way partnership is proving successful in identifying and updating archaeological sites in Wairarapa.

The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT), along with the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA), Masterton and Carterton District Councils and tangata whenua, are undertaking field work to update sites in the NZAA Site Recording Scheme. This is part of a national project initiated in 1999 to ensure information held about recorded sites is accurate and useful for councils, developers and other interested groups involved in land development projects.

The Site Recording Scheme was originally a paper-based inventory that held records of archaeological sites in New Zealand. It is the largest non-government archaeological site recording scheme in the world, currently holding over 61,000 records. NZAA has recently undertaken a project to make all this data available on-line through a new portal known as ArchSite (

NZHPT Central Region archaeologist Kathryn Hurren said fieldwork for the upgrade project in Wairarapa began in October and would continue in the New Year. Many of the sites were first recorded in the 1950s and last revisited in the 1970s. The current site upgrade is a continuation of work undertaken in South Wairarapa in 2006.

“Most field work to date has centred on Castlepoint. We have been largely successful in locating previously recorded pa, pits and terrace sites but finding midden sites has proven trickier.

“Since being first recorded some coastal sites have either completely eroded away or have been covered by sand. That said, during our work we have discovered other previously unrecorded archaeological sites of interest.”

Miss Hurren praised the assistance and knowledge of local iwi Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane o Wairarapa and Papauma ki Wairarapa, and landowners in helping the project.

“There has been an overwhelming positive response from landowners who have given us permission and helped us to visit sites on their property so we can upgrade the site information.

“Identifying archaeological sites is culturally important to Maori. This is where their ancestors lived, and in some cases were buried. They should be treated with due respect.

“Developers will also benefit from this work as, once an area has been checked for archaeological and cultural significance, they can have greater confidence in going about their business when starting work.”

The field work and recent digging up of human remains by a nine year old school boy at Castlepoint has highlighted the fragility of archaeological remains in a coastal environment and the sensitivity in how to deal with koiwi tangata (human remains).

“With the traditional influx of visitors to Wairarapa’s coastal sites during the holiday season we want people to know that any archaeological material found must be covered as best as possible and the NZHPT, police and local iwi contacted immediately.

“Once archaeological sites are damaged or destroyed so is the valuable information they hold about New Zealand’s history. Removing artefacts from their original site also destroys the context in which they are in.

“Being contacted by the public if they find something of interest is important because it allows us, the police and iwi to identify and deal appropriately with what has been discovered. Any human remains discovered must be reported to the police.

“Archaeologists are trained to identify and retrieve information from sites and only trained professionals should undertake excavation work.”


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