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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs



The Waikato basin, although favoured by its generally north-facing aspect, was prone to frost damage to young plants because of its inland location. Frosts were avoided by cultivations in the lower hill country, in positions page break
Oruarangi and Pāterangi, on a former course of the Waihou River, near Thames

Oruarangi and Pāterangi, on a former course of the Waihou River, near Thames

Opposite. Occupying an important position in the history of archaeological thinking in New Zealand, these two pā are almost imperceptible in the aerial view. They are the two slightly elevated areas of land adjacent to the broad curve of the former bank of the Waihou River; the better drainage has permitted the growth of slightly taller shrubs since the period of initial land clearance. Excavations by museum staff, Fisher and Teviotdale in the 1920s, recovered large numbers of artefacts. These artefacts were later characterised by Golson as typical of Classic Maori culture. The photograph was taken in 1944.

Below. An oblique view of Oruarangi (top left partly showing in the vicinity of the shed) and Pāterangi (right foreground). The defensive ditch on Pāterangi shows right foreground and the former bank of the Waihou River runs middle top to bottom right.

page 116 where broad ridges caused cold air to drain away down to the lower-lying swamp land. Swamp and forest edges may have been chosen for settlement because of their influence in reducing the incidence of frost. 14 Soils were improved by adding gravels to increase their warming properties. Such techniques were needed to make effective use of the relatively heavy soils of the Waikato River terraces: in their natural state, these soils would not have suited the Māori crops. The gravel was 'borrowed' to add to the adjacent soils on the terrace surfaces, and the 'borrow-pits' can still be seen in the river landscape. They are sometimes dug from the flat surface of the terrace, but more commonly dug into the bank at the edge of the terrace where it descends to a lower river terrace. In the vicinity of Cambridge and Tirau, many borrow-pits are readily seen from the road, particularly where they were cut into the edges of the higher river terraces, but their overall pattern is clearest in the aerial view. Borrow-pits at Tirau were illustrated in chapter 4.
Some areas have large numbers of pits, especially within pā. Some pā are so packed with pits of the open rectangular variety that it has been suggested that they were principally defended food stores. 15 Impressive examples of pā lie on the hills near Tirau. 16 This emphasis on storage, the modification of soils and the careful choice of location to avoid frost and cold air leads to a
Two pā on hill country near Tirau

Two pā on hill country near Tirau

A pā about 250 m long is at centre, with a smaller one at the top. The larger pā extends out to the ridges on either side of the centre where its pattern is obscured by the shadow of the forest (to the right) and somewhat worn banks (to the left). Raised-rim pits about 2 by 3 m in plan can be seen on the edges and at the foot of the terrace scarps in the near part of the pā, suggesting a pattern of houses and open living areas on the terraces with pits on the periphery. The pattern of segmentation with double ditches and banks on the weakest access points can be clearly seen. The view is to the north-east.

page 117 quite different pattern of horticultural usage compared with places further north. Northland saw the use of southern faces, enclosed valley floors and swampy soils for horticulture—locational choices that were not possible in the Waikato climate.

Many sites have been recorded by archaeologists along the west coast of the region. These have limited visual landscape impact, although there are some coastal headland pā. Nevertheless, some parts of the coastal area present striking horticultural features. In the Aotea Harbour vicinity, and near Taharoa south of the Kāwhia Harbour, extensive areas of dunelands were stripped of their vegetation cover as long as 500 years ago. The soils here were created from surface layers of volcanic ash, erupted from the volcanic vents of the southern Waikato such as Mt Pirongia. Until planted in pine's in recent years, these dunes were drifting sand that intermittently covered the old settlements. As the loose sand was blown away, the pre-European activities on the underlying soils were revealed very clearly and over unusually large areas. The ash surface of the oldest sand dunes has a hard weathered crust, created during the formation of the original soils. The ash is at its thinnest on the natural ridge crests of the extensive dune areas; cut into it are extensive groups of borrow-pits, storage pits, house-terraces and pā. In surrounding areas the ash-based soils had sand from the borrow-pits added to improve physical condition. 17

These settlements and the borrow- and storage pits can be seen clearly in aerial photographs of the stable dune-country in the areas just to the north of the Aotea north head reserve. Here, in open farmland, the sand is stabilised by the firm volcanic-ash cap and a cover of pasture. 18 The storage pits tend to be rather amorphous in plan (not clearly rectangular) because the ash crust has become broken down by stock. The massive pā, Manuaitu, some 600 m long, 19 was probably occupied by Ngāti Koata, prior to their departure from this area in 1815 under pressure from other tribes of the Waikato. 20

Southwards again, areas of currently drifting sand are now in the north head reserve. The bare sand in the reserve is a dark grey iron-sand, forming a significant contrast with the bright white of middens, scattered down slopes from areas of settlement sheltered by ridges from the prevailing winds. Across the harbour entrance on the south head, similar country with middens was the site of the first planting of kūmara by Turi of the Aotea canoe, discussed in chapter l. 21 Spectacular evidence of horticulture like that at north head does not show as clearly, yet the reflection of tradition in the archaeological record is noteworthy. There are, for example, some pits evident on the surface of Turi's pā, Turi Matai Rehua, and taro survives in small swamps in the dunes. 22