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Dig reveals depth of history


By Julia Wade

3 MF-Pearsondig-503Layers of Mangawhai’s past have been dug away and revealed at an archaeological dig recently, an event which the local community were invited to attend by investigating archaeologists and developers. 

More than 60 visitors attended a public open day at the Pearson Street site on Anniversary Weekend, January 29, which included a guided tour by Heritage NZ [HNZ] archaeologists. 

New Zealand company, Pro-Land Matters, currently owns the 4.25 hectares intended for housing development later this year, and have obtained a HNZ archaeological authority which requires the company to have the land investigated before any earthworks can begin. 

The open day was a combined effort from the development’s Project Manager, Jackson Worsfold, director of Mangawhai land development consultancy firm Dream Planning, and project archaeologist and Mangawhai resident, Dr Moira Jackson. 

“We just wanted to offer the community the opportunity to share the area’s layers of history and experience an archeological investigation,” Dr Jackson says. 

The ten day dig from January 24 to February 3, was situated on what eventually will be a public shoreline reserve, deepened in width from the 20sqm council requirements to 29sqm, due to the developer’s voluntary gifting of extra land.
Although no bones or graves have been unearthed in the three protected excavation sites, Dr Jackson says there is plenty of evidence of human activity. 

“We’re standing on ground where people may have been camping for hundreds of years… from early Maori occupation to boat builders in the 1860s and later the gum-diggers. There is evidence suggestive of Maori horticulture such as charcoal layered through the soil which possibly indicates a kumara garden,” she says. “However due to the extensive gum digging activities that heavily modified the soils through the 19th century and into the 1930s, much of the evidence of Maori and coloniser activity has been disturbed and destroyed.”

European 19th century artefacts, including broken ceramics and coloured glass bottles, evidence of boatbuilding activities such as a boat ramp as well as ecofacts (organic material that has archaeological significance, such as animal bones, charcoal, plants, remnants of gardens and shell middens) have been uncovered by the dig. 

“The archaeological excavation process was based on an earlier archaeological assessment. Physical excavation – analysis of samples – is the beginning of the scientific process and may take some months.”

All archaeological sites that predate 1900, whether recorded or not, are protected under legislation and archaeological authorities must be obtained from Heritage NZ before land development can be undertaken. NZ Archaeological Association national data base have three listed historical sites located at the Pearson Street address. Dr Jackson says once the scheduled earthworks begin in September, Heritage NZ will continue to monitor the site. 
Revised plan for development

The Pearson Street development faced challenges from nearby residents last year over the size of the sections being proposed and a range of environmental impacts including safety of children along the road due to increased traffic. 

The original development plan, which provided for a more mixed density approach with a range of diverse section sizes, has now been modified with house lots now increased to greater than 710sqm, the development’s project manager, Jackson Worsfold says. 

“The Mangawhai Town Plan identified the potential need for medium density residential development with an increasing demand for smaller size sections… to provide a range of residential living opportunities so young people entering the market could afford to buy, as well as providing opportunities for older people who wished to down-size,” he says. “However this approach met considerable resistance and while we have had to increase the size of the sites, the applicant still wants this development to be an exemplar for future development in the area.”

The development design is a ‘positive departure from a typical subdivision’ Worsfold says, utilising low impact stormwater treatment solutions such as sustainable rain gardens that treat surface run-off from paved areas as opposed to directly discharging into the Mangawhai Estuary. 

“There is a strong emphasis on urban design with high quality streetscapes nestled in a beautiful natural location and the use of materials in keeping with the coastal setting,” he says. “The provision of an Esplanade Reserve also contributes towards improving much needed connectivity and walkability within the Mangawhai Village, forming the missing link between existing reserves.” 

Heritage NZ’s Northland’s senior archaeologist Dr James Robinson (in pit, wearing blue hat) talks to an attentive audience. A wind-blown Dr Hans Deiter Bader (at left with hair over face) also contributed his experience and knowledge. 

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