Sharp-eyed worker digs up historic site
A midden has been uncovered during work at the Transmission Gully project site office at Lanes Flat, near Pauatahanui.
Cockle shells and shattered rocks were found in the midden – a mound or deposit containing shells, animal bones and other refuse that indicates the site of a human settlement – suggesting it was once used as an oven.
The Transmission Gully motorway project is a Public Private Partnership between NZ Transport Agency and the Wellington Gateway Partnership. The Gateway Partnership has contracted joint-venture Leighton Contractors and HEB Construction to design and construct the motorway.
Project director Mick O’Dwyer said that in line with the required protocols, work stopped immediately to allow archaeologists and the local iwi, Ngati Toa, to inspect the area and a 20-metre exclusion zone was created around the midden to preserve the site.
The discovery was made at the eastern end of the 3-hectare site, which sits on the flood plain of the Pauatahanui Stream, and near the foot of the steep slopes that lead up to St Alban’s Church. The underlying site there is Matai- Taua, Te Rangihaeata’s pa of 1846.
Project archaeologist Mary O’Keeffe said she was surprised at the find.
‘‘We didn’t expect it given the distance from the edge of the inlet, where the shells cooked in the oven were likely gathered,’’ she said.
‘‘But it did encourage me to keep my beady archaeological eyes open while examining the find, just in case.
‘‘Two additional areas of interest were found as a result.’’
She said shell fragments will be sent away for radio carbon dating. That has not been done in the area previously and will reveal how old the oven is.
‘‘It may not look much – just a few shells and shattered rocks – but these small objects can tell big stories about how people were living and travelling regionally and even nationally.’’ She was full of praise for the digger driver, Malcolm McLeavy, who uncovered the midden while stripping grass from the area before the laying of additional fill.
‘‘ It can be as subtle as a change in the colour of the soil, but you do need to know what you are looking for, and he clearly did.
Exciting find: From left, Goodman Contractors digger driver Malcolm McLeavy, who made the find, flanked by senior environmental adviser Reuben Mills and project archaeologist Mary O’Keeffe.