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Koiwi protocol implemented after bones found on Waikato Expressway

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Contractors working on the Huntly section of the Waikato Expressway have implemented a Koiwi Discovery Protocol after human bones were discovered during earthworks, says the NZ Transport Agency.

Project archaeologist are on site in an area between Ralph Road and Lake Kimihia, in Huntly, where the bones, known as koiwi, were discovered yesterday (March 29).

The Koiwi Discovery Protocol was developed by the NZ Transport Agency and Waikato-Tainui in partnership for situations where koiwi could be discovered on the Huntly project and the protocol was put in place prior to the start of construction.

Police have also been informed.

The contractor, Fulton Hogan HEB Joint Venture was laying a culvert in the area when they uncovered middens.

Project archaeologists were called in to investigate the middens and while that investigation was underway the koiwi was found.

The Transport Agency's Hamilton highway manager Kaye Clark said project protocols which the NZ Transport Agency has developed alongside Waikato-Tainui immediately came into play when the remains were uncovered.

“Our protocols include provisions for kaitiaki (guardian) from iwi to work on site, as needed, to monitor earthworks as they unfold. This discovery was made by the kaitiaki and the project archaeologists working alongside each other, which is exactly what should happen,” Mrs Clark says.

The area was blessed by Waikato-Tainui this morning (March 30) and work has stopped in that area while archaeologists remove the remains and carry out investigations in the surrounding area.

Mrs Clark says where possible the Transport Agency worked hard to align new highways away from any sites of significance.

“Working with iwi and the local communities we try to identify all areas of significance before we embark on our projects. Where that is not possible archaeological investigations are undertaken at the start of any project to collect and record any history so we can make it available for all New Zealanders,” Mrs Clark says.

“In situations like this, we also have protocols we have developed alongside iwi to ensure correct cultural processes are followed.”

Waikato Tainui, Te Arataura Chairman Rahui Papa said the co-designed process which led to the protocols being developed makes for an easier transition to ensure the correct cultural practice is engaged.

“The NZ Transport Agency and Waikato-Tainui will continue to work in partnership to satisfy cultural values and to complete the journey that we embarked on together,” Mr Papa says.

Once the koiwi has been removed, examined and the site investigation are complete the koiwi will be reinterred at Taupiri Urupa by kaumatua.

Project archaeologist Warren Gumbley said the remains would be examined by a physical anthropologist to determine the age, sex and possibly health of the person depending on how intact the remains are.

Material around the site would be used to date the burial.

“It is an interesting site because it contains a shell midden which are very rare inland and would normally be found in more permanent coastal settlements," Mr Gumbley said.

"We have also found a kumara pit at the site which suggests it may have been a temporary, seasonally occupied site, relating to both harvesting the resources of the lake and also growing kumara.

While work has stopped in the area the archaeological investigation is happening the contractor continues to work in other areas along the 15.2km Huntly section.

To find out more about the Huntly section go to www.nzta.govt.nz/Huntly(external link).

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