Napier has made a name for itself with its heritage buildings, drawing thousands of tourists to the celebrated Art Deco capital of New Zealand.

But what about the heritage which sits beneath the surface?

Napier City Council has come up with a unique way to ensure the city's archaeology is protected.

It's called a global archaeological authority, says Strategic Planning Lead Fleur Lincoln .

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An 1887 map which Napier City Council used to help map out different areas of risk. Photo / Supplied
An 1887 map which Napier City Council used to help map out different areas of risk. Photo / Supplied

Lincoln said the council had sought to obtain a global archaeological authority because it is aware of the obligations under the Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ Act.

Under the Act, councils are not able to modify, damage or destroy an archaeological site either knowingly or unknowingly.

"As the council carries out a number of minor works within this area on a regular basis, such as service connections, we needed to make sure that we met the law, reduced our risks, reduced the chances of delays to our customers, and reduced the cost of compliance for our community.

"The added, and possibly most important, benefit is that we are more likely to preserve the stories of our past for our present and future generations."

Mapping the CBD has allowed NCC to tailor its response to work requests based on the level of risk to damage of an archaeological site. Photo / Supplied
Mapping the CBD has allowed NCC to tailor its response to work requests based on the level of risk to damage of an archaeological site. Photo / Supplied

Until a few years ago it had been believed much of Napier's archaeological evidence had been destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.

But a few recent digs proved this is not the case.

Speaking at the New Zealand Planning Institute Conference last week, Lincoln said the development of Napier had been well documented, which allowed the council to accurately map where Napier was occupied at 1900.

1900 is the latest date at which evidence of occupation is considered archaeological in nature.

Public areas in the CBD are then coded either green, yellow or red based on the level of risk of finding archaeologically significant material, which in turn, dictates the council's response to work needing to be done in these areas.

In green areas, work only needs to be stopped if anything is found.

In yellow areas the archaeologist is notified and any trench over 2m in length has to be monitored by the archaeologist.

Red areas require extra research to be done by the archaeologist before work can even take place.

Lincoln said while it was common for councils to apply for archaeological authorities for specific work, she was not aware of another council in New Zealand dealing with their obligations under the act in the same way Napier does.

Heritage Service Hawke's Bay principal Elizabeth Pishief says the global archaeological authority is an example of best practice.

She said because most of Napier's CBD was built primarily on shingle islands, as the city developed it was built up, which means much of the evidence of early occupation, both Māori and Victorian, is under reclamation fill.

"It is not until people begin digging below the surface that these sites and places are discovered."