Mass grave possibly uncovered in assessment of land for Tauranga museum
The mystery of where 700 bodies were buried following the raid of Tauranga's Otamataha Pa in 1828 may have a new lead thanks to modern technology.
Tauranga City Council contracted surveyors to use ground penetrating radar to asses land near Cliff Road where a proposed museum could be built.
The report came back with a number of anomalies which suggest man made defensive structures for the pa as well as data on seven pre-european and early settler sites of significance in the area. Of particular interest is a 3.3 metre wide and 2.2 metre deep trench running along the stretch of where the pa once sat.
"There are eight identified archaeological sites located within 100m of the properties potentially affected by the proposed Museum Development," archeologist Ken Phillips said.
"Archival research and archaeological survey indicate that land affected by the proposed museum development likely contains components of the southern defended section of Otamataha Pa as well as evidence of pre-European Maori open settlement and cultivations.
"In addition archaeology relating to early European activity including components of the Mission Station and later features associated with the 1860s military occupation and Armed Constabulary headquarters may be present within land affected by the proposed museum development."
The Otamataha Pa was one of the largest and most important pa in the Tauranga region. Beaches to the north and the south provided canoe access to harbour resources and defensive earthworks provided shelter from pre-musket warfare.
"It was thought the pa could have stood for several hundred years but in April 1828 Hauraki tribes attacked and overwhelmed the pa," Phillips said.
"They were only able to succeed as the pa was not designed to protect itself from musket attack."
A contemporary account of the aftermath of the attack comes from Henry Williams. On 14 April 1828, Henry Williams wrote in his diary that "Mr. Mair and I went up to the pa which within this last fortnight has been subdued by Ngati-Maru. We witnessed every mark of desolation. When last here we anchored abreast of the place, then were there many hundreds of men, women and children living here—now all was silent —their houses and fences burnt—dead dogs and pigs on all sides, and human bones in many places—a dreadful evidence of the real temporal situation of this people".
Following the 1828 attack Otamataha Pa was abandoned as it had become tapu. The dead were buried following the attack but where the 500 to 700 casualties were buried is still unknown to this day.
"While the ditch and bank defences of Otamataha Pa were a prominent features of the area well into the 20th century, however, by the 1920s the land at Otamataha had been extensively modified, first by the construction of the East Coast Railway,": Phillips said.
"Given the lack of significant development within the properties over the past 150 years there is a high likelihood that significant intact archaeological features relating to these sites survive within the affected properties.
Phillips has recommended Heritage New Zealand be permitted to undertake an investigation into the archeological sites prior to the commenced of earthwork needed of the museum's development.
"If koiwi tangata (human remains) are encountered, no further modification of the site concerned shall occur until tangata whenua and the HNZ have been advised and their responses received," he said.
"Archaeological survey cannot always detect sites of traditional value to Maori, such as wahi tapu. Tangata whenua should be consulted regarding the possible existence of such sites and informed of the recommendations of this report."
Ngai Tamarawaho kaumatua Peri Kohu said it would be fitting to have the museum still constructed on the site and he welcomed the building.
"This area is a living museum for us," he said.
"If we can all get our hats on the right heads we can make a museum here."