Dig opens window into past

CATHIE BELL
Last updated 11:32 11/07/2014

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Archeological work done at land surrounding the Blenheim sewerage works before its upgrade shows the area was used after early Maori settlers left the Wairau Bar in the 13th century.

In a report to the Marlborough District Council, archaeologists led by Otago University professor Richard Walter say the work done between 2011 and last year was "an excellent example of the potential value of salvage archaeology".

"Taken alone, the data generated from this work is interesting and informative, but when evaluated against the wider archaeology of the region it will prove invaluable in constructing models of long-term settlement and adaptation in the region."

Another excellent outcome of the programme was the protection of the zone alongside the Orua Canal to the east of the Orua Canal site excavations, the report says.

"This area is almost certainly rich in archaeological material and will be an excellent site for a later investigation, should that be acceptable to landowners and iwi."

Walter and other scientists at Otago University have published many papers about their Wairau Bar work in scientific journals around the world.

The university's vice-chancellor, Professor Harlene Hayne, will next week visit two historic sites in Blenheim and attend a presentation on the university's world-leading research at Wairau Bar.

The report said the archaeological work had built up a basic picture of land use in the area.

In the north, the deposits were earlier and indicated some continuity of occupation of the lagoon zone following the abandonment of Wairau Bar.

To the south, the excavations found semi-permanent but small-scale occupation postdating the northern settlement zone.

"This all demonstrates that the Wairau wetlands were a significant locus for Maori occupation and exploitation from the earliest period of New Zealand settlement."

The Blenheim sewerage upgrade was finished earlier this year, and included building new settling ponds in an area of wetlands and excavation for a new pipeline adjacent to the existing outfall.

The report said that because of the potential for archaeological deposits to be affected by earthworks for the project, extensive archaeological involvement was required during its planning phases.

The North Zone area excavated lies directly across the estuary from the boulder bank moa-hunter site known as Wairau Bar. It had previously been identified as containing archaeological material most likely related to the bar. 

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- The Marlborough Express

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