Prehistoric human remains uncovered in a grave at Pilot Bay during the construction of the boardwalk have now been identified as two Maori adults and a child.
Archaeologists this week confirmed to SunLive the identification of three skeletons discovered alongside Moa bones, fish hooks and stone tools, on the foreshore of The Mall in July this year.
Bay of Plenty Archaeology heritage consultant Ken Phillips says the human remains were examined by Auckland University physical anthropologists and have since been re-buried by tangata whenua.
He says thousands of artefacts were uncovered during the construction of the boardwalk in Mount Maunganui. Each will be analysed in the coming months.
Construction on the newly opened $364,594 boardwalk took place between July and October with excavation reaching down about 150mm to remove topsoil.
Along with the bones and fish hooks, the majority of artefacts are stone flake debris, from the Coromandel Peninsula, produced during adze manufacturing which appears to have been a major function of the site.
“The investigation carried out at the site this year has added significantly to our understanding of the early settlement of Tauranga and New Zealand generally,” says Ken.
Historic Places Trust regional archaeologist, Dr Rachel Darmody, says the discovery is exciting as the area has a rich history of settlement dating back 700 years, which has not yet been fully researched.
She says Tauranga City Council approached the trust for authority to research the area in the early stages of the boardwalk’s planning, realising it is a significant and sacred area.
“We expected something would pop up,” says Rachel.
“Often when they do developments it’s often a little slice or piece, but it was nice because the boardwalk was going all the way down so it was good to see all the archaeology, all the way along.”
According to archaeologists, Pilot Bay is one of the oldest known archaeological sites nationwide after being first discovered in the 1960s. But up until now there have been no opportunities to examine the site in any detail.
Ken says previous radiocarbon dates recovered from the site indicate it was first occupied during the mid to late 1300s with later episodes of occupation up to the early 1800s.
The first Polynesian settlers established a village when they arrived (circa 1200-1300s) with small portions of the village being unearthed under 37 The Mall and other sites along the Bay frontage.
By the 1850s, the Pilot Bay area had been abandoned by Maori, soon becoming a popular outing destination for Tauranga residents from the 1880s.
“The boardwalk and stormwater upgrade work has exposed many sections of the site which we now know extends the length of the beach and was a large and significant early settlement involved in many manufacturing activities.”
A detailed report will be prepared and made available when all analysis of samples and artifacts and radio carbon dating has been completed.