Kaikoura road and rail archaeology

As the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR) project winds up, it’s a chance to reflect on the extensive and ground-breaking archaeological monitoring and investigations that accompanied the repair and stabilisation of roads, rockfaces and coastal sites. 

NCTIR Waka Taonga
Credit: Waka Kotahiexpand/collapse

The Kaikōura Coast has been the site of human occupation for more than 800 years and is an area of immense cultural value. A network of Ara Tawhito, (ancient trails), mahinga kai (food and resource gathering places) and pā extend through the area. There are also European archaeological sites connected to whaling, sealing, farming and railways.

So, when major earthworks took place recently as part of the repair of the earthquake damaged road and rail routes, 42 archaeologists were out in force. Working on 246 sites, in partnership with Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura, this team of experts have studied 45,000 fishbones, recorded 7,700 stone artefacts and collected 26,500 bags of materials.

Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga’s Senior Archaeologist, Frank van der Heijden has been managing the single Archaeological Authority which covered all archaeological sites on the project. “This has been an incredible effort to recover and record valuable archaeological material and information. Throughout the project the archaeologists have shown great dedication and respect.”

Frank notes there have been some innovative approaches taken throughout the archaeological monitoring. NCTIR’s Cultural Monitor and Iwi Advisor, Darran Kerei-Keepa, compiled a box of artefacts to use as a portable training tool for construction teams. Earthworks teams learnt to keep their eyes sharpened for adzes, stone sinkers and bone shards.

In December 2020, the NCTIR archaeology team undertook repatriation of taonga tūturu (objects that relate to Māori culture, history and society that are over 50 years old) to the whānui at Takahanga. The objects are now awaiting their permanent home in the soon-to-be completed whare taonga (treasure house).

The relationship between Te Rūnanga o Kaikōura, Waka Kotahi, KiwiRail and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga has grown over the course of the NCTIR project and will hopefully set a positive precedent for other projects.

- Rosemary Baird