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Home arrow Articles by Topic arrow Heritage arrow Archaeological values of the Ngunguru Sandspit
Archaeological values of the Ngunguru Sandspit PDF Print
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Articles - Heritage
Written by Joan Maingay (2008)   
Sunday, 10 April 2016

The sandspit and adjacent land to the south has high archaeological values in addition to its natural and cultural significance. It contains more than 50 recorded archaeological sites and there are almost certainly other unrecorded sites below the surface and in areas presently covered in vegetation.

A small well-defined pa looks out over the spit from the south and this is flanked by terraces that would have contained house sites. Shell middens, the remains of many meals, spill down the sides of the pa and behind it lies a swampy area where taro was grown and where wooden artifacts were recovered when the swamp was drained. In addition a 19th century land claim plan, OLC 280, shows a ‘native settlement’ named Waipa near the south-western end of the sandspit. There are still remnants of old bottles and china here near to the high tide mark.

But the most numerous sites on the spit are middens. Some of these are enormous. One forms a discontinuous band 120m long and other extensive sites measure 35 x 90m and 20 x 90m. They contain a wide variety of estuarine, sandy shore, rocky shore and deeper water species of shellfish indicating that the inhabitants took advantage of all the available rich resources. Several sites also contain bird bone and flakes of grey obsidian possibly from Huruiki to the north.

No radio-carbon dates have been acquired for any of these sites, but one small in situ midden discovered by Stan Bartlett, the Northland Filekeeper for the NZ Archaeological Society, was obviously an early deposit. It contained a number of bird bones which included three extinct species, one of these, the giant New Zealand eagle, is believed to have become extinct by the 14th century. Mayor Island obsidian, of a distinctive clear green colour, was also present indicating long distance trade or exchange with other Maori groups, possibly before the discovery of closer obsidian resources at Huruiki and Kaeo.

The evidence indicates that a relatively permanent population lived near to the sandspit for a long period of time. They made good use of its resources and traded with other areas. No doubt numbers increased during the summer months (as they do today) probably by an influx of affiliated hapu from the inland volcanic area around Kiripaka, by way of Ngunguru River, to collect seafood and perhaps reciprocate with agricultural produce.

The sandspit also contains evidence of less peaceful activity. It is well-known as the scene of a battle in the 19th century, and many human remains have been exposed here by storms. Some of these within the area now proposed for development.

The importance of the property has been acknowledged by the NZ Historic Places Trust and by Whangarei District Council. It has been registered as a wahi tapu under the Historic Places Act and as a place of significance to Maori in the District Scheme. It is also a very rare archaeological landscape that must be recognized in its entirety. It incorporates evidence of early settlement and long distance trade, through the development of fortifications to 19th century warfare. There can be no doubt that the property is a place of great significance to Maori, to historians and to archaeologists.

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