New archaeological discovery at Ihumātao

updated By Kimiora Kaire-Melbourne

A new archaeological discovery at Ihumātao, known as Special Housing Area 62 (SHA 62), calls into question the adequacy and conclusions of a Fletchers report presented to Council consent hearings in February 2016.

The Special Housing Area project has been at the center of protest as residents of Ihumātao have tried to stop work in the area, due to the historical and cultural significance of the land to their people.

Fletchers commissioned an archaeological survey on the block for their consent application. The 165-page report concluded that the only feature of archaeological interest worth protecting was the concrete farm house built in 1906.  

However, newly discovered shell midden and fire remains found just last week tell a different story. Archaeologist Dave Veart identified the midden as culturally significant.

Midden is a word archaeologists use to describe old refuse areas.

"They are time capsules that give us important glimpses of the past, so they are very important rubbish!” Veart explains. 

“It’s a tip of an iceberg, shell midden. What you sometimes find are these patches of shell, it tells you that people are doing something there and there’s a number of possibilities. At its simplest, it could have been somewhere that someone sat down and had their lunch. At its greatest, and possibly the most interesting one of these I ever saw in my career was quite a large patch of broken shell and old charcoal in the middle of a paddock, but under there were two complete papakainga.”

Fletchers employed a number of expert archaeologists but none of them identified this midden site on the side of the road. So how could they miss something like this?

Veart says, “I think there are two possible reasons. One is it’s actually on the side of the road, not in the land that Fletchers was buying, it's actually public space. The other thing is that there’s been so much rain lately that the surface has been washed clean and suddenly the stuff is incredibly obvious and pretty easy to see.”

The archaeological report commissioned by Fletchers concluded that bulldozing by the developer would discover and disturb very little of archaeological value on the SHA62 site.  The report stated that "Only one midden was found and that had been spread by repeated plowing. It is expected not a great number of sites will be discovered during the earthworks phase.”

However, the midden discovered last week is different from the one named in the commissioned report and is located in the middle of the SHA area.

So what does this mean for further development at SHA 62?

Veart says, “Sadly, archaeology is not a particularly good tool for protecting landscapes or sites unless it is something that’s incredibly obvious and very large. The problem with this particular block is that on the surface there’s not a huge amount of evidence but that’s not to say that there’s not something there.”

Waimarie McFarland of Ihumātao, and SOUL, reinforced the importance of the find.  “This is a sign from our tupuna that we must carry on fighting to protect Ihumātao from development. It confirms what I’ve always known and believed; that the wāhi tapu aspect of the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve extends into the land now known as SHA 62. The Environment Court was provided evidence of this notion years ago, when the current owners sought to have the land rezoned for future urban development.”  

In a statement to Te Kāea, Fletcher Residential and Land Development Chief Executive Steve Evans says there has been a real commitment to identify all areas of cultural significance as part of Auckland Council's comprehensive planning processes.

“We have protection plans in place and will not build on areas of cultural significance within the Oruarangi Road Special Housing Area. We recognise the importance of the stone fields and believe our development can provide much needed housing for Auckland as well as being a sympathetic gateway to the stone fields.

We are respectful of the site’s cultural history having worked with representatives of Te Kawera and Te Akitai to create robust protection plans. We believe Auckland can have history and housing.”

Te Kāea has also approached the Auckland Council for comment and are still waiting for a response.