Two historic pou discovered in a Far North shed have been saved from destruction and have excited local iwi, who believe the items are pre-missionary carvings.
The two carved taonga, believed to be amo from the front of a wharenui, may have ended up amongst burning rubbish had it not been for a couple who recognised the significance of the items and handed them over to Te Rarawa Runanga chairman Haami Piripi.
"The couple knew the people clearing out the shed and the people didn't recognise the value. I think it was sitting there in a rubbish pile to be burnt. I said to Mahue and Barry, 'you don't find these things, these things find you'."
The carvings were cleared out of a shed in Okahu, 5km south of Kaitaia, and it is not known how long they had been stored. They are believed to be from the mid-1700s.
Mr Piripi said he first consulted with master carver Hekenukumai Puhipi (Hector Busby) over the carvings. He said they had also been examined physically, and by photographs, by other expert carvers and taonga experts.
"They have confirmed it is legitimate and they all agree it is very old. The question is how old?
"We seem to think it is a pre-missionary carving style from the mid-1700s because of the age of the timber and the detail in the whakairo [carving]. When missionaries first arrived they would take carvings down and they were put away or buried or burnt so it makes me think it is that old. If this is an early example of carvings, it is fantastic for us," said Mr Piripi.
One pou is 1.7m and the other is 1.3m tall. Mr Piripi said the pou were similar to Ngapuhi carvings but there was detail in them he had never seen before.
"The style is quite consistent with our style. I think the wood is kauri so it may be from the North and significant to Ngapuhi."
Mr Piripi said it was not clear what the pou had been carved with. There had been debate whether stone or steel was used to carve the pou but he said it was possible they were initially carved with stone, and steel was used to fix parts of them.
He said an interesting factor in the carvings was they appeared to depict women holding weapons.
Mr Piripi was keen to know the origin of the pou.
"I feel so fortunate to be involved in taking this and tracing its history. This is so important to our cultural and artistic history of the North. My worst fear is that they are from somewhere else and were brought here."
The Ministry of Culture and Heritage's Protected Objects Act requires a notification process to confirm the objects are taonga tuturu. Once taonga are confirmed, a public notification is made to call for claims of ownership. At present the pou are being stored in a climate-controlled area at the Te Ahu centre in Kaitaia until more experts can examine the carvings.