Māori remains discovered on a roadworks site in Horowhenua will be left in peace as investigations uncover more archaeological evidence.

The tūpāpaku (remains) were discovered last week during ground testing before scraping topsoil from a 10ha area to excavate sand for use in two Manawatū River bridge projects.

On Sunday, further testing at Whirokino uncovered ancient kūmara storage pits, a midden (shell waste site) and also charcoaled remains of a hangi pit, confirmation of Māori occupation of the land.

A round hole full of charred hangi stones and earth were proof of Māori cooking techniques, and in another area, sea shells, believed to be tuatua, were found covering what looked like steps or tiers.


Official site archeologist Kevin Jones said he couldn't easily interpret what the steps were.

A kūmara storage pit in the form of a rectangular hole in the ground, was filled in by charcoal years ago, the colour of which highlighted its sloping sides and flat bottom, the exact dimensions often used for storage by early Māori, he said.

Part of the Whirokino Trestle project near Foxton was halted after the initial discovery, with iwi representatives, archaeologists, NZ Transport Agency and Goodmans, the contractor undertaking the Whirokino project, called to the site for a hui.

Goodmans chief executive Stan Goodman said Muaūpoko iwi members had shared their suspicions before work began that the land could have archaeological significance. After initial investigations, he had agreed to have an extra archaeologist on site, chosen by Muaūpoko.

In all, 800,000 cubic metres of sand was to be removed from the area before topsoil would be restored over farmland, but this was later reduced to 500,000 cubic metres.

Goodman said the project was redesigned so to work around potential discoveries.

"We set aside enough volume so if we did [discover an area of archaeological significance], we could work around it," he said.

The tūpāpaku were found buried in a traditional Māori style and facing the ocean.


Jones said the body had been buried "flexed" in a crouching position, a relatively common form of Māori burial used up until the 1830s when Christian burial styles were implemented.

A form of matting called whāriki was often used to wrap the body in position, but he said all evidence of that at the Whirokino site would have disintegrated.

At the hui, it was decided that the tūpāpaku would be preserved in-situ and the hill on which it is buried would be excluded from further excavation.

It was not uncommon to find burial sites in Horowhenua's sand dunes, and tūpāpaku had also been found at sites uncovered as part of the recent Kāpiti expressway, Jones said.

One tūpāpaku found at the Waikanae River Bridge had been disinterred and reburied elsewhere.

The most recent finds at Whirokino were not the first storage pits uncovered during the project.

Earlier, three others were discovered close to the Goodmans site office. Charcoal from the pit and the shells would be analysed and carbon dated.

As Goodmans continue to clear the topsoil in preparation for the sand excavations, Jones said he would be remaining on site to watch for any further discoveries.

The three iwi involved were Raukawa, Muaūpoko and Rangitāne.