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Last Friday, Ms Macknight discovered up to 1.5m of digging along the banks of Awamoa Creek, south of Oamaru, an archaeological site of great significance to Maori.
In the past, there had been reports of casual fossicking in the area, as storms had washed archaeology from the site, but new damage was "on another level".
"They’re possibly looking for things they perceive to be of commercial value, like adzes or possibly pounamu — or even moa bones. If they are looking for that type of thing, then they’re probably misinformed.
"What they are doing is destroying the potential for researching the site and understanding the early history of Aotearoa."
The site had been investigated in the past, under an archaeological authority granted to Te Runanga o Moeraki by HNZPT, and it was discovered to be a very early mahinga kai (food and resource gathering) site.
"The site forms part of important travelling routes for early Maori up and down the South Island, linking to coastal and inland networks," Upoko Te Runanga o Moeraki David Higgins said.
There was clear signage in the area, and Ms Macknight believed fossickers knew it was protected.
"Under New Zealand law, archaeological sites are protected and it is a criminal offence to modify or destroy the site without an authority," Ms Macknight said.
However, signage had faded, and HNZPT, the Waitaki District Council and Te Runanga o Moeraki were working together to assess what ongoing protection was needed.
There were a lot of archaeological sites in the Waitaki district and monitoring them all was difficult, she said.
"We rely a lot on being informed about damage.
"We’ve had a couple of site damage reports in the Waitaki district over the last month, not just this particular site, sites on private land involving structures. It’s an active process for us, but we just ... don’t have the resources to go around checking on sites."
Ms Macknight hoped to improve people’s understanding of archaeology, and the importance of protecting archaeological sites, so everyone would take more care and pride in the history of the Waitaki district.
"I would certainly like that to be something that I can improve while I’m in this role," she said.
Anyone with information on the recent damage was asked to contact HNZPT on (03)477-9871 or at email@example.com.