Hawke's Bay iwi are working with University of Otago to learn how to record and protect sites with "crucial cultural and archaeological values".
In March the university launched Omaio ki Tua, a project in partnership with Pukehou Marae, Kahuranaki Marae and the Kairakau Land Trust.
This community-based initiative to protect and conserve Maori heritage places in coastal areas of the Ngati Kahungunu rohe has been funded by the Department of Conservation through its Community Conservation Partnerships programme.
The head of the university's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, Professor Richard Walter, says many of these places are archaeological sites that contain physical evidence of past human activity.
"They possess important cultural and archaeological values and, because of their location in the coastal zone, they are increasingly vulnerable to damage through rising sea levels and other coastal processes."
The project is based on the principle that the best way of achieving effective archaeological site management is for mana whenua groups to take an active and leading role.
Marae-based groups have been given training and the resources to carry out ongoing monitoring and oversee the management of sites. Led by Professor Walter, the university ran a two-day workshop at Pukehou Marae at which participants learned the principles of archaeological site recording.
"As well as obtaining general skills in recognising and describing archaeological sites, site mapping, photography and GPS work, the participants were shown some of the methods archaeologists use to 'read' and interpret archaeological landscapes," Professor Walter says.
The workshop included a focused session of work on Manawarakau Pa at Kairakau.
The university team is made up of staff of the research unit, Southern Pacific Archaeological Research (SPAR), who specialise in working with iwi, hapu and marae groups on archaeological research and management.
SPAR staff member Dr Karen Greig, a researcher in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, has developed a phone app for the programme that can be used to record and monitor archaeological sites and which feeds information into a central marae-managed database.
In addition to the University of Otago team, the local partners in the project are James Graham and Tihema Makoare (Pukehou), Robin Hape (Kahuranake), Wiki Moore and Jill Munroe (Kairakau Land Trust).
The initial workshop at Pukehou was attended by representatives and interested members of all those groups, plus Christine Barnett from Heritage New Zealand, Charles Ropitini from Hawke's Bay Museum and local heritage consultant, Elizabeth Pishief.
The project will run for another year with further workshops and fieldwork planned.