By Sharleen (Shar) Briden, Technical Advisor (Historic and Cultural)
A few months ago, an eroding length of timber—visible just above the sand on the foreshore of the Papanui Inlet, on the Otago Peninsula—attracted the attention of Jim Fyfe, Kuini Scott and I.
We suspected this timber was significant, and not just an old fence post, so we started digging.
As we dug down the sides of the exposed wood, we found it kept going into the sand, and was starting to curve inward.
I freaked out, thinking, crikey, it’s a waka!
In order to recover the waka we needed to get consent from Heritage New Zealand. This is required to modify any pre-1900 archaeological site.
Consent to recover the waka was applied for and granted to DOC—with myself as the named archaeologist tasked with the project.
A team comprising conservators, archaeologists, rūnanga members and their families, University of Otago students, and volunteers, dug out the sand to expose the over six-metre-long waka over one weekend.
We refloated the waka using pontoons and moved it across the estuary at high tide to where it could be retrieved.
We could see that the waka was carved from a single trunk of totara and would have been suitable for fishing within the estuary.
A significant quantity of plaited plant fibre was found lying in the hull and we are currently trying to determine which plants these fibres came from.
It is too early to say what would happen to the waka, but it could end up in a museum.