Remaining artefacts to stay at reserve

Volunteer David Harrowfield, with help from the Waitaki District Council, has removed hundreds of...
Volunteer David Harrowfield, with help from the Waitaki District Council, has removed hundreds of artefacts from Awamoa Foreshore Reserve since the archaeological site was disturbed by the July deluge. The items will be stored at the North Otago Museum in Oamaru. Photo: Hamish MacLean

Remaining  artefacts  at Awamoa Foreshore Reserve near Oamaru are to stay in situ in accordance with Te Runanga o Moeraki wishes.

Flood damage at the end of July exposed archaeological remains at the roughly 650-year-old site.  After moa bones were allegedly taken from the foreshore, a clean-up of the site was conducted by a local volunteer and Waitaki District Council staff under archaeological supervision. On August 30, the council approved $10,000 funding for further excavation of the site.

Last week the council reversed the decision because the  runanga did not want the site excavated and "they have the say on this under legislation", Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said.

"We’ve got funds there for heritage purposes and . . . we had a report [on August 30] that we knew was limited information but we also had some urgency," Mr Kircher said.

"We thought we were doing the right thing."

Upoko Runanga o Moeraki David Higgins said he appreciated the council’s "generosity" but the  runanga had received archaeological advice to "leave it in situ".

"I guess the most important thing is . . . if you’re going to dig it all up, get all these bones, what are you going to do with them?

"There’s one on every river and they are extensive. We’re talking about acres — they’re huge.

"The thing could be vast and where do you stop?"

Nearby Shag River was possibly the largest site of its kind.

Mr Higgins said he understood the North Otago Museum — where moa bones and other artefacts from the site would be kept — had enough in its collection for its planned exhibits; and the story of moa hunting was "well-known throughout New Zealand".

"We’re not losing any what we call matauraka, we’re not losing any knowledge, by not uncovering it and going through an archaeological dig," he said.

Some work to protect the site from erosion due to the creek and coast would be welcomed, he said.

Mr Kircher said erosion protection was prohibitively expensive.

According to Heritage New Zealand the site, first excavated in 1852, is one of the earliest archaeological sites in New Zealand.

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