Shag River Mouth Moa Hunter Site
Shag River Mouth
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 Pt Sec 57 Blk III Moeraki SD (NZ Gazette, 1987, p.1329) and part of the land described as Sec 1 of 43 Blk III Moeraki SD and Sec 9 SO 307935 (CT 333226), Otago Land District. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 8 March 2018.
Pt Sec 57 Blk III Moeraki SD (NZ Gazette, 1987, p.1329), Sec 1 of 43 Blk III Moeraki SD and Sec 9 SO 307935 (CT 333226), Otago Land District
The circa 3 hectare Shag Mouth Moa Hunter Site, in coastal North Otago dating from the fourteenth century, provides special insight into early Polynesian settlement in the South Island that was a coastal village that formed the centre of socio-economic systems this period.
Araiteuru tradition records that the colonising canoe Araiteuru was wrecked at Matakaea (Shag Point) at the northern entrance to the estuary – the wreck forming the nearby reef. Place names in the Shag valley and throughout the eastern South Island recall the crew of the Araiteuru and their exploration. The first Polynesian settlers of Otago probably settled close to food resources such as moa and seals along the coast. Shag Mouth is one of several ‘major base camps that stood at the apices of more extensive settlement systems.’ Occupied at a high point in the settlement density of southern New Zealand, Shag Mouth was occupied for a period of some 50 years in the fourteenth or early fifteenth centuries, contemporary with sites like Papatowai, Pounawea, Warrington and possibly Little Papanui.
Shag River Mouth was located in country suited to exploiting moa and seals. It was also close to the route to the interior through Shag Valley, providing access to stone resources, and links to nephrite further afield. It was one of the ‘last of the early base settlements based upon big game hunting in southern New Zealand, and ‘may represent the apogee of this settlement system and therefore a level of community size and settlement permanence that was not otherwise attained.’ The systematic archaeological investigations of the late 1980s indicate that some 100-200 people arrived during the 14th century, with middens and ovens, containing the remains of more than 6000 moa and countless other birds, mammals and fish, showing that as the numbers of ‘megafauna’, the favoured moa and fur seal, declined, the villagers probably shifted to an unexploited site. Archaeologists Atholl Anderson and Ian Smith write that Shag Mouth ‘stands out as distinctive in its evidence of a large number of dwellings and in this respect has the strongest claim to be regarded as a former village.’
Shag River is an important site to the discipline of archaeology, with abundant artefacts and faunal remains, with the assemblage providing a significant study collection. The site was identified at a time of debate about moa hunting in the late 1869s and early 1870s with geologist Julius Haast (later von Haast) visiting the site in mid-1874. He identified moa hunter and Maori kitchen middens scattered over the site, the stratigraphy providing information about the occupation of the site. Debates about the chronology followed. David Teviotdale, farmer, fossicker and amateur archaeologist excavated the site from the 1920s, depositing a collection of artefacts at the Otago Museum. Director H.S. Skinner described Shag Mouth at that time as ‘incomparably the richest site of any kind yet worked in New Zealand.’
Shag River Mouth is distinctive in its evidence of a large number of dwellings, and has the ‘strongest claim’ to being a former village, with the associated collection providing important insights into Polynesian settlement in New Zealand. In 2018, it is a historic reserve.
Haast visits the site
Frederick Hutton and Bayard Booth investigate site
David Teviotdale’s extensive site investigations and excavation
University of Otago excavation programme
Hamilton and Chapman excavate site
Public NZAA Number
7th February 2018
Report Written By
The Archaeology of Otago
Jill Hamel, The Archaeology of Otago, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2001
Shag River Mouth: The Archaeology of an Early Southern Maori Village
Atholl Anderson, Brian Allingham and Ian Smith (eds), Shag River Mouth: The Archaeology of an Early Southern Maori Village, ANH Publications, RSPAS The Australian National University, Canberra, 1996
'Shag River Mouth', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/shag-river-mouth , (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 22-Dec-2014
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 Office of Heritage New Zealand