Riverbank spear a historical find

When Trevor Griffin spotted a piece of wood sticking out of the sand near the banks of the Taieri River he knew it was something special.

The Taieri Mouth resident was whitebaiting on the river near Maori Leap on Wednesday when he discovered a 200-year-old Maori toro (spear).

"As soon as you touched it you realised it was something special, it had a shape and it tapered so that taper naturally stood out."

Mr Griffin and his friend then dug the 2.1m long toro out of the sand, revealing what they had found.

"It all happened so fast, but luckily I took a photo of it and sent it to my partner who works for Ngai Tahu and she put us down the right track."

After contacting the Otago Museum, he was told to bring it in for identification as soon as possible.

What he had found was a significant Maori object with possible links to some of the area’s earliest settlers.

Taieri Mouth resident Trevor Griffin tests the lightness and balance of the 200-year-old toro he...
Taieri Mouth resident Trevor Griffin tests the lightness and balance of the 200-year-old toro he found while whitebaiting in the Taieri River this week, as Otakou kaumatua Paul Karaitiana watches on. Photo: Stephen Jaquiery
Museum curator Maori, Rachel Wesley said the Ngati-Mamoe people — an early South Island iwi — built a pa not far from where the object was found.

Local tradition tells of a chief who jumped off Maori Leap during a conflict and was killed when a spear struck him as he was falling towards the river, Ms Wesley said.

"This particular toro being found directly across from that pa, that’s a pretty unique coincidence."

It would be difficult to prove the connection between the toro and the traditional story about the chief’s death but it was still a significant discovery, she said.

"I would rank this as pretty significant, we’ve a really amazing collection here at Otago Museum but we don’t have anything so securely provenienced [sic] to Otago."

The toro could be up to 200 years old and was likely carved from manuka, she said.

It would now be taken to the Otakou marae where there was an organic treatment facility, so it could be conserved.

An official notification had been sent to the Ministry of Culture and Heritage which would then determine the ownership of the toro, which would be overseen by the Maori Land Court.

It was likely to be stored at the marae and then offered to the local runanga, she said.

tim.miller@odt.co.nz

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