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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 2, June 1967

The Archaic Site at Tahunanui

The Archaic Site at Tahunanui

No two Maori sites are ever the same. Each one has its own peculiarities of stratigraphy, topography, artifact and midden composition and so on. The site at Tahunanui is no exception to this. Being on the property of relatives, it is the only site I know of where one is assured of "on-the-spot" accommodation and morning and afternoon cups of tea.

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The site itself is situated next to the Tahunanui Post Office and in Maori times would have been only a few yards from the sea. Levelling and filling-in on various parts of the property have destroyed the original topography, but it is also possible that these same processes have removed much of the post-Maori accumulation of sand and soil. Argillite flakes were observable in the vegetable garden and so early in 1964 a trial excavation of a five foot square was made—in the centre of the back lawn. To date some 400 square feet of the site have been excavated.

In some places the occupation layer is less than two inches below the surface and the average dept of the occupation is 6–8 inches. In spite of the comparative shallowness of the occupation layer, the density of artifacts has been quite high. As one would expect, the site's close proximity to the Maori argillite quarries of the Nelson mineral belt has meant that considerable pre-occupation with adze manufacture has taken place. Waste argillite flakes litter the occupation layer with considerable density and broken portions of "roughed-out" adzes are common artifacts. Obviously, the vast majority of adzes were being prepared for trade, or certainly for removal to another site, as few completed adzes have been excavated so far and those which have come to light have been small and somewhat insignificant, but typically Archaic in form. In the future the study of these waste argillite flakes is going to assume increasing importance as it may be possible to determine trade routes, match varying kinds of argillites to their quarry sources and possibly even determine the extent of tribal diffusions or movements in pretraditional times. The argillite which occurs at the bottom of the occupation at Tahunanui is of the light grey variety—usually called D'Urville Island argillite, but as one rises through the layer, another type, presumably from a Whangamoa or Maitai source, replaces the light grey variety. Comparison with two other sites reveals a similar change but a great deal of work needs to be done before firm conclusions can be made. Boxes of flakes from Tahunanui and Cable Bay will probably be worked on by members of the Archaeological Group this winter.

The commonest artifact at Tahunanui is the argillite drill point. So far, over 150 of these have been catalogued. Their primary use was in the manufacture of one-piece fish hooks made from moa bone. A series of holes was drilled in the central portion of the bone tab and the resultant "core" snapped out. By using this method of manufacture, considerable time was saved in filing the hook into shape. The high density of drill points indicates the manufacture of considerable numbers of fish hooks on the site and the amount of snapper, kahawai and barracouta bones present in the occupation layer indicate the effectiveness of the fishing gear manufactured. Predatory "school" fish such as kahawai and bara-couta were caught by using a lure hook—a small stone shank shaped page 10like a small fish with an unbarbed bone point attached, was trolled through the water enticing the fish to strike. Several of these characteristically Archaic lure shanks are represented.

Several of the bone fish hooks from this site have been made from moa bone and fragments or the Northern Bush Moa occur in the midden. Other creatures which have contributed to the food supply of the occupants include the Polynesian Dog, Southern Fur Seal, Weka, N.Z. Pigeon, Spotted Shag and several other sea birds.

Evidence of man made structures has been restricted to two fire pits (not haangi) from which charcoal has been obtained for future carbon dating analysis. The presence of greenstone is represented by a small polished fragment of nephrite and a finely made, well polished chisel from the bottom of the occupation layer. The latter artifact is unusual in that it has been designed as a dual purpose tool, being chisel-shaped at one end and gouge-shaped at the other. This small chisel may well be representative of the scarcity of greenstone during the Archaic period.