The case for building Tauranga's new museum on Cliff Rd has been enhanced by the discovery of nationally significant historical artefacts, a kaumatua says.

Among finds made during an archaeological survey of the site were evidence of a 3.3m wide and 2.2m deep trench running through the Otamataha Pa.

It may solve the mystery of where hundreds of people killed in an 1828 attack on the pa were buried.

At yesterday's announcement, Ngai Tamarawaho kaumatua Peri Kohu told gathered media the trench was "a living museum".

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He said he felt the site was the most appropriate in Tauranga for a museum, and the discoveries could form part of the exhibit.

"Imagine that we could open up these trenches down here and have them glassed off. People could walk through this museum and be a part of those trenches where our ancestors died."

Mr Kohu told the Bay of Plenty Times he hoped to stand at the site in two or three years' time and open a museum. "But first the council has to make a decision."

A council committee has been investigating a combined museum and library in Willow St as well as a standalone museum on Cliff Rd. It has been told tangata whenua prefer the Cliff Rd site.

Deputy mayor Kelvin Clout announces the archaeological finds. Photo / George Novak
Deputy mayor Kelvin Clout announces the archaeological finds. Photo / George Novak

Archaeologist Ken Phillips, who prepared the archaeological report of the Cliff Rd site for the council, said a museum might enhance the land and make better use of it.

"At the moment people are parking their cars on it and playing lawn bowls, which is a pretty inappropriate use."

He said the discovery of the Otamataha Pa features and trench was not a surprise, and confirmed Maori oral histories of the area as well as records from early European settlers and surveys.

"We always knew it was there. But this has provided an additional layer of data useful in planning, and it takes away some of the guesswork and scepticism about the existence of the pa."

Mr Phillips, who has worked in Tauranga for 20 years, said it was a nationally significant site and he was "absolutely rapt" to have helped make it public.

The next step was up to the council but could involve "ground truthing" - excavating a small area. He recommended the council consult with Heritage New Zealand and tangata whenua.

Tauranga's deputy mayor, Kelvin Clout, said it was a significant find and the pa site was "central to the history of Tauranga Moana".

"There are likely to be significant remains found under the ground here."

Mr Clout expected they would find artefacts from both pre-European Maori and early European settlers.

"We're excited to explore this further."

Allan Lightbourne and Lance Fearon with Tauranga City Council's new $150k ground-penetrating radar. Photo / George Novak
Allan Lightbourne and Lance Fearon with Tauranga City Council's new $150k ground-penetrating radar. Photo / George Novak