Call for Papanui Inlet to be Wahi Tapu (Source: Otago Daily Times)

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A treasure trove of taonga recovered from Papanui Inlet on Otago Peninsula may lead to the area becoming a site of national significance.

After the discovery of a partial human skull in 2007, a nearby eroding wooden structure was excavated and one of the items from it was revealed as a small outrigger float – one of just three believed to be in the country.

The find has prompted Otakou runanga to call for the site to be nationally recognised.

PapanuiInletCRunanga manager Hoani Langsbury said a meeting would be held next month between the various stakeholders, including the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the Department of Conservation, to discuss the area’s future.

“We don’t want to keep people away from the area, just increase the amount of monitoring we do.”

To deter treasure-hunters, the exact location of the find is being kept secret.

Fossicking is deemed illegal under the Historic Places Act 1993.

Coastal erosion continues to reveal historic finds.

More than 50 items were removed from the wooden structure, measured and recorded at Otago Museum before being sent to the University of Auckland for analysis.

Mr Langsbury said confirmation was received this week that the recovered items were from a waka.

The discovery of the small outrigger float made of totara had caused the greatest level of excitement.

The find highlighted the significance of the area for Maori, who can be traced in the area back to the 14th century.

The area had been frequented by Ngai Tahu and Kati Mamoe, and bones were still found, although whether it could have been a burial site was unclear, Mr Langsbury said.

Carbon dating might be carried out to determine the approximate age of the latest items, he said.

While it was unclear what would happen to the recovered items, they might be offered to Otago Museum or, in the case of items with “national significance”, to Te Papa.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust Otago-Southland regional archaeologist Matthew Schmidt said the discoveries confirmed Papanui Inlet was “a very important site” and more work was required in the area.

Preserved wooden artefacts were rare, and required wet or dry conditions to preserve them in situ, he said.

Department of Conservation acting community relations manager David Mules said having the area declared a site of national significance would add another level of protection, and Doc was likely to support such a move.

Source: Otago Daily Times: hamish.mcneilly@odt.co.nz

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