A team of archaeologists have opened up a fascinating window into Tauranga's colonial past after diggers unearthed an old domestic rubbish pit in the CBD.

The discovery on Wednesday took place during earthworks for the council's $20 million carpark building between Hamilton St and Harington St.

Thousands of objects and fragments of objects have been salvaged from the deep well-shaped pit since work began on Thursday, led by project archaeologist Brigid Gallagher of Mishmish Productions.

''It is a nice little slice of Tauranga life.''


Gallagher, who has featured on the popular UK archaeology TV series Time Team, said her initial assessment of what had been found suggested the hole had been used multiple times to dump rubbish.

The artefacts looked like they mostly dated from the late 19th to early 20th Centuries, with a little bit left to excavate at the bottom of the hole.

She said they had not analysed the artefacts. ''It was a bit of a jumble in there.''

There were layers of burnt and unburnt material, showing that the nearby householders periodically set fire to the rubbish. Archaeologists even found a box of old wax vesta matches.

A lot of the bottles showed they once held gin. ''There was a lot of gin drinking going on,'' she said.

And lots of little things were found, like ceramic pigs, a doll's head, a cross on a chain and parts of a leather-bound book. Amongst it all were broken ceramics that looked like they came from the early 1900s, including vases, teapots and cups and saucers.

Large quantities of fish bones suggested that fish played an essential part of the diet of Tauranga's European settlers.

Next week she will start going through the artefacts to get a better idea of dates. Gallagher suggested that some of what had been found would make an interesting display in the new parking building.


She estimated the pit was originally about 4m deep but levelling of the site over the last 60 years meant archaeologists were left with about two metres. A digger driver shaved off the side of the hole, making it easier to excavate and get a good photo record.

Gallagher hoped more of these features would be found during earthworks for other developments in and around the downtown. She has seen a photo of a white villa dated 1899 on the site of where the parking building was being built.

This week's finds are the latest in a string of fascinating digs by Mishmash that included underneath demolished buildings at 59-67 The Strand next to Masonic Park, and under the demolished Tauranga Hotel, later known as the Grumpy Mole.

Gallagher, a specialist in heritage and artefact conservation, was also a presenter for the New Zealand TV series Heritage Rescue.

After leaving New Zealand and the Auckland Museum in 1998, she worked in archaeology across the British Isles and parts of Europe. Following some years in the field assessing, evaluating and excavating 5000 years of history she went back to University in Cardiff to specialise in conservation for archaeology and museums.

This culminated in roles at the Catal hoyuk research project in Turkey and a position with TV's Time Team.

Before heading back to NZ in 2008, she was conservation manager for a large archaeological consultancy and responsible for artefact care and conservation from excavations across the Republic of Ireland.

Notable projects by Mishmash
- Ruapekapeka Pa and battlefield virtual interpretation plan
- Lyttelton's earthquake-damaged Timeball Station
- Interactive displays at New Plymouth's Puke Ariki museum
- Conservation of pre-historic hinaki or Maori eel trap.