Awamoa Moa Hunting Site/Te Awa Kokomaka
Beach Road, Awamoa
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
11th March 1985
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as road reserve and as Sec 55 BLK VI Oamaru SD (CT OTB1/1278), Otago Land District, and the archaeological site known as the Awamoa Moa Hunting Site/Awakokomaka thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 March 2018.
Sec 55 BLK VI Oamaru SD (CT OTB1/1278), Otago Land District
The nationally significant Awamoa Moa Hunting Site, close to the mouth of the Awamoa River in North Otago, dating from New Zealand’s earliest settlement, and first recorded by Walter Mantell in 1852, has archaeological, historical and traditional significance, providing insight into the material culture and life ways of these early inhabitants of this part of Te Waipounamu.
According to archaeologist Jill Hamel, Awamoa was the first recorded archaeological investigation in New Zealand. Mantell had noted umu on a trip through the area in late 1852, and revisited the Awamoa over Christmas in 1852 to investigate the site, setting up camp at the river mouth. He describes ‘[t]he old surface in which the umus had been excavated was buried under a foot of alluvial deposit – beneath this the old sandy soil was blackened by the mixture of charcoal, large lumps of which were scattered among the chaotic mess.’ Around the umu, Mantell found ‘relics of their dinner equipage in the shape of large and small fragments of flint, totally different from any in the neighbourhood [he suspected they came from inland regions].’ Mantell sketched the scene, and shows the digging party carrying away loads of moa bones from Awamoa in North Otago on 29 December 1852. Mantell applied the name Awamoa (which means moa river) to a creek that was originally called Awakokomaka.’ Mantell conducted a number of New Zealand's earliest archaeological digs, removing hundreds of moa bones and accompanying artefacts. The information gained was minimal, as little attempt was made to record the details of material before it was removed.
In 1853 Walter Mantell described his investigations in letters to his father, and published them in The New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian on 27 August 1853. Mantell had earlier retrieved moa bones at Waikouaiti in Otago and Waingongoro in South Taranaki, but it was his dig at Awamoa that was recorded in some detail, describing the large number of moa bones, oven stones and stone tools from the North Otago site he named Awamoa.’ Here, for the first time in a published account, Mantell stated that moa and their eggs and been consumed by the people he described as the ‘extinct aboriginal tribe of Waitaha.’ What Mantell described was, Hamel writes, ‘a wholly typical assemblage of material from an Otago coastal moa hunting site.’ He found bones of Aptornis (extinct giant rail), takahe, Nestor (probably kaka), kiwi, shags, ducks, dogs, rat, seals and two species of moa as well as large quantities of moa egg shell.
In later years, the site has been subject to coastal erosion and some damage from fossickers. Monitoring on the site in May and July 2014 on the western side of the road did not provide further evidence of the moa hunter camp. The groundwork excavations did confirm in more detail the sequence of natural stratigraphy accumulated across the site. The absence of further cultural material on the western side of the road suggests that the Awamoa site (J41/3) may be limited to a zone along the western edge of the Awamoa Creek with just occasional outlying deposits, such as the hangi found by Hamel in 2005, scattered further west of the creek edge and centrally within the Old Bones Backpackers site. The inland section now lies under mown grass and the curtilage of a back packer’s lodge.
Moa hunter occupation
Site first recorded and excavated by Walter Mantell
Public NZAA Number
17th January 2018
Report Written By
Archaeology in New Zealand
Archaeology in New Zealand
David Harrowfield, ‘Archaeological Investigations at Awamoa, North Otago 1852-2013,’ Archaeology in New Zealand (56) 2, March 2013 90-99
Archaeological authority 2014-901 for extension to sauna & massage facility, granted 10 Apr 2014.
Jill Hamel, ‘Heritage values at Awamoa estuary,’ Report to Montgomery Watson Harza for Waitaki District Council, May 2002
J.Hamel, “ A Hangi at Awamoa”, report to the NZHPT, 2005
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Area Office of Heritage New Zealand