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Public Talk Looks At Early Polynesian Settlement On Moturua Island

People will be able to learn about one of New Zealand’s oldest known Polynesian settlement sites at a public talk in Whāngārei on Friday October 30.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Northland Regional Archaeologist, Dr James Robinson, will talk about archaeological sites at Mangahāwea Bay on Moturua Island in the Bay of Islands, believed to date back to about 1300 AD.

The talk is part of the Whāngārei District Libraries Heritage Talk Series.

Three excavations, led by the Arakite Charitable Trust representing Ngāti Kuta and Patu Keha as tangata whenua, with support from project partners Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, the Department of Conservation and the Universities of Otago and Auckland, have taken place at Mangahāwea Bay over the past four years.

The most recent excavation earlier this year reinforced the site’s significance as a place that was continually settled and gardened from the 1300s to the late 19th century.

The team of archaeologists worked closely in partnership with Ngāti Kuta Patu Keha on the three excavations, and in particular with kaumātua, Matutaera Clendon, who has supported the kaupapa of this work, and provided cultural guidance and protection throughout the fieldwork, as well as insights into oral history traditions that link the area to Polynesia.

“This bay is unusual in that it has been continuously occupied and cultivated from the time of the earliest Polynesian settlers through to historic times when Māori lived here in 1898,” says Dr Robinson, who oversaw the excavations.

“It’s remarkable that this land was gardened throughout this time. The excavation uncovered evidence of possible taro cultivation by the earliest arrivals, and the transition to kumara cultivation which was better suited to our climate.”

Evidence of very different and extensive historic gardens thought to be associated with white potato cultivation, which began in the early 1800s, was also uncovered. White potatoes emerged as a highly sought-after commodity by Māori in the Bay of Islands who traded them for muskets and other goods in the period from 1818 to 1830.

Later in the 1840s- 1860s these gardens may have produced a range of introduced crops for the growing urban centres such as Auckland and possibly Whāngārei. This is still being investigated.

“The archaeology here represents some insights into early Polynesian settlement in Northland, and how the people adapted and changed to become a distinctive Māori culture. As history will soon be part of the national education curriculum, the story of human settlement at Mangahāwea Bay engages with ideas about migration, colonisation, and economic development in Aotearoa New Zealand and has huge potential for education,” he says.

Don’t miss Early Polynesian Settlement on Moturua Island by James Robinson, 12.30pm, Friday October 30 at the May Bain Room, Whāngārei Central Library. Free entry – no bookings required; seating is on a first come, first served basis.

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