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Understanding Aotearoa’s past through the recovery and conservation of a 15th-century canoe and its fibrework from Papanui Inlet, Otago Peninsula

Dilys Johns, Shar Briden, Rachel Wesley, Geoffrey Irwin

JPS, Vol 126, No 4 pg (469-494)


When Tasman and Cook arrived in New Zealand in 1642 and 1769 respectively they both sighted double-hulled canoes (waka) on New Zealand’s coast. However, over the next 100 or so years these canoes disappeared. Fortuitously the recent rescue and conservation of a waterlogged waka and fibrework assemblage on the shores of Papanui Inlet has allowed rare insight into the lives of its inhabitants nearly 550 years ago, when New Zealand’s seminal migrants established themselves in the remote south of New Zealand. These discoveries reinforce traditional stories around early Māori occupation of Te Waipounamu and offer additional clarification of iwi ‘tribal’ activities in their local environment many generations ago. Conservation of these taoka ‘treasures’ on Ōtākou Marae has provided easy, continuous access for descendants of the waka to their taoka throughout the process and aided the development of constructive relationships for iwi and conservation and archaeological agencies. Here we discuss recent fieldwork with an emphasis on conservation, cross-cultural engagement and the assemblage recovered to date, followed by comparison of the waka reported here with another discovered within the Te Rūnanga o Ōtākou rohe ‘territory’ over 120 years ago by Elsdon Best. Imminent investigations to excavate cultural material from Papanui Inlet’s actively degrading coastline are scheduled for January 2018, and the resulting environmental and archaeological information from this research will be discussed fully elsewhere.


conservation, archaeology, canoe, wet organic, Māori, New Zealand

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