Archaeological Investigations in Porirua

This page outlines some of the results of archaeological investigations undertaken in Porirua.

Archaeological sites have the potential to provide information about the past that is not available from any other source. Archaeologists use a range of techniques to study archaeological sites and build a picture of what life was like at the time the site was being used. Archaeologists study sites with specific questions in mind, such as:

  • Why is this site in this location?
  • What were people doing here?
  • How was this site made/used?
  • How does it relate to other sites nearby or further afield?
  • What was the environment like?
  • What resources were people using, and did this use alter the local environment or ecology?

In Porirua, there have been a number of investigations of archaeological sites carried over the last forty years. The results of these investigations have revealed some interesting information about the past; they also show the types of questions that archaeologists are interested in and how they collect the information they need.

What was found in the 1962 salvage dig at Paremata

In 1962 an important excavation took place at Paremata. It was what archaeologists call a ‘salvage’ excavation. This is when an archaeological site has been disturbed, so the archaeologists are trying to rescue what material and information they can before it is lost. Any alteration of the ground can damage an archaeological site, as the relationship between all the different things in the site is vital for understanding what happened there. At Paremata, earthworks started for the construction of the club house for the Mana Cruising Club revealed a large area of shell midden.

The site was found to be a complicated one, with several layers of occupation and use. The excavation revealed the remains of ovens, postholes, several burials, animal bones (bird, fish, sea mammal, dog and rat, and European domesticated animals) and artefacts associated with fishing, ornaments, needles and cloak pins, manufacturing tools and also items of European origin, such as glass, clay pipes, pieces of metal, and bricks. Three main periods were able to be identified: an early layer associated with the first people who occupied the site who hunted moa and other extinct birds, another layer lacking the extinct birds, and a later layer with both Maori and European material present. This layer is associated with Paremata Pa, occupied by Ngati Toa in the 1830s and early 1840s. Some of the European material may also be associated with the British military occupation of the area in the 1840s.

What was found in the 2000 dig at Pauatahanui

Image showing Archaeologist Karen Greig investigating an archaeological site on the southern side of Pauatahanui Inlet.
Archaeologist Karen Greig investigating an archaeological site on the southern side of Pauatahanui Inlet.
Photo by Mark Round provided courtesy of the Dominion Post.

In 2000, an investigation of a shell midden on the edge of the Pauatahanui Inlet was carried out, in advance of the site being destroyed by an upgrade of State Highway 58. The excavation involved digging carefully through the archaeological material, taking photographs and making drawings and notes about what was found. Samples of the midden containing animal bones, shellfish and charcoal were also collected. These samples were then cleaned, identified and analysed mainly at the Archaeozoology Laborartory at Te Papa. Samples were also sent for radiocarbon dating and charcoal identification.

The results of the investigation showed that people had been living at the site on the edge of the inlet between AD 1450 and 1650. They gathered shellfish and fished for flounder in the inlet, and occasionally ventured further afield, perhaps around the harbor entrance for other shellfish and fish such as snapper and blue cod. They snared forest birds such as tui, kokako and pigeon, and kiore (Pacific rat). By the time the site was occupied, the forest had already been cleared and was starting to regenerate to scrub dominated by kanuka.

The cockles found at the site were also studied in some detail. Measurements of the archaeological sample compared to modern measurements show that there has been a decrease in the size of the cockles in the inlet over time. The most likely cause is thought to be a significant environmental change; this could have arisen from a number of factors such as a period of lower water temperature, increased sedimentation from land runoff during forest clearance, lower salinity from an increase in rainfall, or a reduction in the overall depth of water in the inlet. Information from the archaeological investigation has provided a longer scale view of the changes to the cockle beds over time that can be used to assist with conservation efforts for the inlet.

The vast majority of archaeological sites in Porirua have not been investigated by archaeologists. They can be seen as a special kind of time capsule that needs to be carefully looked after. They are also a reminder of the landscape of people and events in the past.

Return to the Porirua's heritage page or continue on to the Further Information about Archaeology page.