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23 August 2015  |  Transmission Gully Project  |  Media release

A midden has been uncovered in the course of creating a bund for the lay-down area for the Transmission Gully project site office at Lanes Flat, near Pauatahanui.

Cockle shells and shattered rocks were found in the midden, suggesting it was once used as an oven.

The Transmission Gully motorway project is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) between the NZ Transport Agency and the Wellington Gateway Partnership (WGP).

The WGP has contracted the Leighton HEB Joint Venture  to design and construct the motorway and LHJV is occupying the Lanes Flat site during the five-year design and construction phase.

LHJV Project Director Mick O’Dywer says, in line with the required protocols, work stopped immediately to allow archaeologists and local iwi, Ngati Toa, to inspect the area and a 20-metre exclusion zone was created around the midden to preserve the site.

The discovery was made at the eastern end of the three-hectare site (which sits on the flood plain of the Pauatahanui Stream) and near the foot of the steep slopes that lead up to the St Alban’s Church and the underlying site of Matai-Taua, Te Rangihaeata’s pa of 1846.

Project Archaeologist, Mary O’Keeffe admits to some surprise at the find. “We didn’t expect it given the distance from the edge of the inlet where the shells cooked in the oven were likely gathered.

“But it did encourage me to keep my beady archaeological eyes open while examining the find, just in case. “

Two additional areas of interest were found as a result.

She said shell fragments will be sent away for radio carbon dating, which has not been done in the area previously, in order to reveal how old the oven is.

“It may not look much, just a few shells and shattered rocks, but these small objects can tell big stories – not just about the use of local resources and activity in the immediate vicinity but also how people were living and travelling regionally and even nationally.”

Mary O’Keeffe is full of praise for the digger driver who uncovered the midden while stripping grass from the area prior to the laying of additional fill to build up the site to support a number of relocatable buildings.

“It can be as subtle as a change in the colour of the soil but you do need to know what you are looking for and he clearly did. He spotted it, realised what he was looking at, understood what he needed to do, and did it,” she said.

Digger driver Malcolm McLeavy, who has worked for Goodmans locally for the past two years, said it was more a case of feeling it.

“Even before I saw it I felt the change in texture and knew I had touched on something important. This is history for someone and we should do what we can to protect and preserve it.”

The area was carefully cleared by hand before the midden was lifted for further examination and later reconstruction.

(Pictured: Midden discovered at Lanes Flat during establishment late 2014)

Midden discovered at Lanes Flat