Exciting archaeological find in Muriwai estuary

Woven lengths of manuka point to a fishing past.

Woven lengths of manuka point to a fishing past.

NATIONALLY-SIGNIFICANT DISCOVERY: The tightly-bound lengths of manuka discovered at Muriwai estuary could tell an important story about how people previously used organic materials in their day-to-day lives. Archaeologist/conservator Dilys Johns (left) of the University of Auckland travelled to Gisborne to work with Ngai Tamanuhiri on excavating a sample from the waterlogged feature. Ngai Tamanuhiri CEO Robyn Rauna (centre) stands with Soloman Pohata (right), Muriwai kaumatua. Picture by Liam Clayton
The fish trap in situ.
PRESERVED IN MUD: While more analysis needs to be done to determine exactly what the feature is, its cylindrical shape suggests it could be a taruke, or fish trap. Archaeologist/conservator Dilys Johns of the University of Auckland believes it is the first fish trap to be found in situ in New Zealand. Muriwai resident Hemi Pohata stumbled across the feature on June 20, and here he helps with excavating a sample. Picture by Tim Mackrell

A COLLECTION of tightly woven lengths of manuka that a Muriwai resident stumbled across in the mud at Muriwai estuary could prove a very important discovery.

The water-logged feature is thought to be a taruke, or fish trap, and its “nationally-significant” discovery will add to historical understanding of how people used organic materials in their everyday lives, says archaeologist/conservator Dilys Johns of the University of Auckland.

Although more analysis needs to be done, she believes the feature could have been used to catch seafood, and could be a few hundred years old.

She believes it is the first fish trap to be found “in situ”, or “in position”, in New Zealand. Discoveries of tools and features made from organic materials are very rare.

“It is a nationally-significant discovery. Organic matter disintegrates, but as this feature has been conserved in the mud, in an anaerobic environment, it has been preserved, even though it is very degraded and requires conservation.”

History largely focuses on tools and features made from materials that do not degrade, like stones and bones.

Tools made from organic materials were much more common in day-to-day life than is commonly documented.
They deteriorate and are not normally available for study.

Muriwai resident Hemi Pohatu discovered the feature sticking out of the mud at Muriwai estuary on June 20.

Ngai Tamanuhiri, the iwi at Muriwai, then got in touch with Heritage New Zealand and the University of Auckland about how to proceed.

The archaeologist travelled down from Auckland University to assess the find and has spent the past few days working with Ngai Tamanuhiri.

The team took a representative sample from the feature on Sunday. It had been sitting one-metre deep in the mud at the low tide mark, which made it a difficult site to access.

Muriwai kaumatua Soloman Pohata lives near where the feature was found. He says they have not seen anything like this before, although they have come across other archaeological features in the past.

Ngai Tamanuhiri CEO Robyn Rauna says the cylindrical shape indicates it could be a taruke.

“We are a fishing iwi. We have had a really strong relationship with the sea.”

She says they are interested in learning about previous fishing practices and what kinds of food they caught. She believes the structure could be very old.

“We do not have manuka that tall around here. It is possibly from a very long time ago.”

The estuary environment in Muriwai is a good place to find these types of features, as the anaerobic mud conserves them and the eroding bank means more could be revealed.

Dilys Johns will send the feature to her conservation laboratory at the University of Auckland, where they will perform a range of tests and carbon dating to discover its age.

They will then treat the wood with polyethylene glycol to conserve it, before sending it back to Gisborne, where it will either go to the marae at Muriwai or Tairawhiti Museum.

A COLLECTION of tightly woven lengths of manuka that a Muriwai resident stumbled across in the mud at Muriwai estuary could prove a very important discovery.

The water-logged feature is thought to be a taruke, or fish trap, and its “nationally-significant” discovery will add to historical understanding of how people used organic materials in their everyday lives, says archaeologist/conservator Dilys Johns of the University of Auckland.

Although more analysis needs to be done, she believes the feature could have been used to catch seafood, and could be a few hundred years old.

She believes it is the first fish trap to be found “in situ”, or “in position”, in New Zealand. Discoveries of tools and features made from organic materials are very rare.

“It is a nationally-significant discovery. Organic matter disintegrates, but as this feature has been conserved in the mud, in an anaerobic environment, it has been preserved, even though it is very degraded and requires conservation.”

History largely focuses on tools and features made from materials that do not degrade, like stones and bones.

Tools made from organic materials were much more common in day-to-day life than is commonly documented.
They deteriorate and are not normally available for study.

Muriwai resident Hemi Pohatu discovered the feature sticking out of the mud at Muriwai estuary on June 20.

Ngai Tamanuhiri, the iwi at Muriwai, then got in touch with Heritage New Zealand and the University of Auckland about how to proceed.

The archaeologist travelled down from Auckland University to assess the find and has spent the past few days working with Ngai Tamanuhiri.

The team took a representative sample from the feature on Sunday. It had been sitting one-metre deep in the mud at the low tide mark, which made it a difficult site to access.

Muriwai kaumatua Soloman Pohata lives near where the feature was found. He says they have not seen anything like this before, although they have come across other archaeological features in the past.

Ngai Tamanuhiri CEO Robyn Rauna says the cylindrical shape indicates it could be a taruke.

“We are a fishing iwi. We have had a really strong relationship with the sea.”

She says they are interested in learning about previous fishing practices and what kinds of food they caught. She believes the structure could be very old.

“We do not have manuka that tall around here. It is possibly from a very long time ago.”

The estuary environment in Muriwai is a good place to find these types of features, as the anaerobic mud conserves them and the eroding bank means more could be revealed.

Dilys Johns will send the feature to her conservation laboratory at the University of Auckland, where they will perform a range of tests and carbon dating to discover its age.

They will then treat the wood with polyethylene glycol to conserve it, before sending it back to Gisborne, where it will either go to the marae at Muriwai or Tairawhiti Museum.

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