The leaders of an archaeological dig at one of the country's oldest known inhabited sites hope their findings will help New Zealanders learn about their history.
About 20 archaeologists and iwi volunteers have spent the past two weeks carefully excavating part of Mangahawea Bay on Moturua Island, where radiocarbon dating has shown a beachside settlement and sprawling gardens were established around the year 1300.
That date is backed up by finds of now-extinct wildlife and a pāua fish hook carved in Polynesian style, suggesting it was made by the first wave of arrivals from what is now the Cook Islands or French Polynesia.
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The dig, which ends today, is the third at the bay in the past three summers but will be the last unless new funding is found.
An estimated 300 people attended an open day on Wednesday despite drizzly conditions and boat-only access.
Excavation director James Robinson said this year's dig had confirmed the site was occupied and cultivated without interruption from about 1300 to 1898.
Archaeologists had been able to trace changes in horticulture from taro and yams to the more climate-suitable kumara and finally to white potatoes, which were traded for muskets.
The most exciting thing about the site was its potential for education, Robinson said, especially now the Government had decided New Zealand history should be taught in schools.
He wanted Mangahawea included in the curriculum and groups to come to the Bay to learn.
Te Au Marie Trust was already putting together an educational package for schools which would include the dig's findings.
Mangahawea was not the only early site in New Zealand but the dig was unique because of the partnership between tangata whenua, the Department of Conservation, Heritage NZ and universities, as well as the use of tikanga Māori.
''We're using traditional knowledge alongside science to try to understand how to put things together, and it's been remarkably successful.''
The settlement of Aotearoa was globally significant because it was the ''last bus stop on the hīkoi of humanity that started in Africa'', Robinson said.
Ngāti Kuta kaumātua Matutaera Clendon, who grew up on the island, has stayed at Mangahawea throughout the dig to safeguard its mauri (life force).
The archaeologists' findings confirmed oral history about the Bay and its links back to islands in the Pacific.
''I want these findings, and how we got here, to go into our schools to help understand the history of New Zealand,'' Clendon said.
This year's finds include obsidian flakes (most likely from Mayor Island), a moa bone fishhook, a lead musket ball, shell fishhooks, buttons and hāngī pits.
Among the volunteers helping sift though soil is Darrell Collier of Rawhiti. His best day was last Friday, when he found a clay pipe, an obsidian flake and three buttons, one made of brass with the Queen's emblem.
''It's awesome. Now when I walk around I notice things way more. I'm hoping to find a tattoo chisel, something my tupuna made.''
This year's dig, under the Arakite Charitable Trust, has opened up 11 pits totalling almost 60sq m. They go as deep as 1m, ground level when people arrived about 700 years ago.