Waka believed from the 1500s

The historic waka unearthed from Papanui Inlet was used in the 1500s, it has been revealed.

Dilys John, of Auckland University's anthropology department, has dated the worked waka and the prepared fibres from inside the hull at being between 440 and 463 years old.

Otakou runanga elder Edward Ellison said the waka remained in water at the marae, and the salt would slowly be removed out ofthe timber over the next two years.

''If it came out of the water now, it would break up like wet cardboard.''

The waka would be preserved and then possibly be put on display at the marae, but no final decision had been made.

The waka could be conserved in time for the next Ngai Tahu Treaty of Waitangi festival at Otakou marae, in two years' time, he said,It was believed the waka was used by Waitaha - the first occupants of the site - or Ngati Mamoe, ''but we still need some more information''.

''The mere thought that the hands that made and used the hand-woven fibres belonged to ancestors who lived at Papanui Inlet at least 20 generations ago is quite breathtaking.''

Dating the waka helped with comparisons with other sites around New Zealand and confirmed ''the specialness of the Papanui Inlet'', he said.

Sea erosion continued to be the biggest threat for the area, which exposed artefacts to the elements and ''we are grappling with how best to address that situation''.

''Maybe a controlled dig to remove and gather all the information we can from the site before it is shambolically mixed up by the sea erosion may be an option.''

It was also a concern treasure hunters had been active in the protected area, and ''we just don't know what has been taken''.

''We have many eyes watching and we have people who regularly monitor the site.''

Anyone who found an object should leave the item in situ and report the find to the Department of Conservation.

hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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