Road crews uncover 'fantastic and rare example' of paving from 1880s

A substantial swathe of bluestone paving, believed to date from the 19th century, has been discovered by construction crews working on the harbour arterial improvement project.

Its moment in the sun is destined to be brief though as the stones are being reburied for their long term protection.

A 50m long stretch of the paving had been unearthed beneath a section of Wharf St that runs under the Cumberland St overbridge.

NZ Heritage Properties consultant archaeologist Braden McLean said the find was a ‘‘fantastic and rare example’’ of a large and intact paved surface.

While it was not uncommon to find smaller fragments of paving and kerbs during road works, the size of the find was unusual, Mr McLean said.

It was not clear exactly how old the paving was, but it appeared to be associated with a railway goods shed constructed in 1883, he said.

Archaeologist Braden McLean of Dunedin with uncovered paving under the overbridge in Wharf St. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Archaeologist Braden McLean, of Dunedin, with uncovered paving under the overbridge in Wharf St. Photo: Peter McIntosh
‘‘This land was reclaimed and was known to be terribly muddy. There was a lot of frustration over the condition of the road, so it is likely the railways installed this path to make access easier between the shed and wharf.’’

The paving had been hidden under a layer of asphalt when the goods shed, known as Shed D, was demolished in the 1970s and the overbridge constructed.

Dunedin City Council transport group manager Jeanine Benson said the size and location of the find meant it was not feasible to integrate the paving into the harbour arterial improvement project.

‘‘We explored options to keep some of the cobblestones visible for the public to enjoy. However, they are at a level too low to leave them exposed without risk of damage, and modification or extraction were also recommended against.’’

Ms Benson said the best way to protect the paving in the long term was to re-bury it, and the discovery and subsequent protection measures would have a negligible effect on the overall project timeline and cost.

The work is the first in a series of transport projects designed to offset the impact of the new Dunedin Hospital being built and the planned improvements at Wharf St are expected to help the area cope with extra traffic.

Safety improvements for the harbour arterial route are budgeted to cost about $16.6 million and just over half of that cost would be met by the NZ Transport Agency.

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