Rare find in earthworks
The teeth of a pre-European ceremonial wooden comb, a heru, have been discovered during earthworks on the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway.
The Fulton Hogan-HEB Joint Venture team made the find while topsoil was being moved to construct the new Evans, Kimihia and McVie Roads intersection, part of the NZ Transport Agency’s Waikato Expressway Huntly Section construction. A machine operator uncovered an old midden site with an excavator. He realised the significance and Kaiarahi Kawe Nikora contacted site archaeologist, Warren Gumbley. The topsoil was searched and the heru teeth were found.
‘The heru teeth are a rare find as virtually all wooden artefacts decay over a relatively short time. In this case we were fortunate because the high resin content in the rimu wood meant the heru had not decayed. Part of the site had been previously disturbed during the construction of Evans Road many years ago so we were very lucky to have the machine operator identify what he was looking at,” Mr Gumbley says.
The Heru was worn by both males and females and a chief’s heru is made of different wood to denote rank.
“Every person who starts work on the Huntly project undertakes a site induction which includes our Kaiarahi [cultural guide] teaching them to be aware of the cultural significance of working in the Taupiri Range,” says Transport Agency Portfolio Manager, Peter Simcock. “As part of our working relationship with Waikato-Tainui, the Kaiarahi observes all topsoil stripping because this is the area of work on the Expressway where archaeological finds are most likely to be made.
The contractors, Kaiarahi and archaeologist are now working with nearby landowners to see if further investigations can be carried out.
The heru teeth will be carbon dated to establish age. The find will be registered under the Protected Objects Act before being returned to Waikato-Tainui.
A rare find during expressway earth works the teeth of a pre-European ceremonial wooden comb.