The remains of an ancient Maori village offering a rare insight for archaeologists has been unearthed during construction of a roundabout in Papamoa.
Archaeologists Ken Phillips and Cameron McCaffrey were brought in as soon as the first discoveries were made at the intersection of Te Puke Highway and Welcome Bay Rd.
More than 300 archaeological features were identified on the 60m by 15m excavation, including large post holes, hangi pits, a cache of hangi stones and kumara pits.
Phillips said the number of possible whare sites was a relatively unique find for Tauranga because it provided information about the layout of these types of settlements.
Early indications were that the kainga (village) dated from 1600 to 1800 - although some could be earlier - but carbon dating shell and charcoal samples would help determine when it was occupied.
Historian Buddy Mikaere, whose whakapapa (heritage) includes Ngati Pukenga - an iwi that had an association with the area - said the discovery of the kainga was "amazing".
"The iwi is really interested in that stuff; it sounds exciting."
He said it was in the middle of a culturally significant area, as Ngati Pukenga's defended pa, Te Wharo, was nearby in the Papamoa Hills. Maori constantly went between the hills and the coastal dune plains.
Intensive pre-historic occupation has left an extensive archaeological record in the wider Papamoa area.
NZ Transport Agency project manager Wayne Troughton said the features and materials found implied that the site was occupied by a large group of people and was likely a remnant of a Maori village or small settlement.
Most of the post holes were structurally aligned and could be the floors of whare.
"Four adjacent whare were excavated. Further post holes at the southern end of the site formed a large structure."
Numerous crop storage pits were located, most likely for kumara, although several smaller bin pits may have stored other items.
Several large hangi pits were also excavated, showing fire reddening on the bottom and sides and concentrated deposits of charcoal and fire-cracked rocks.
Troughton said pieces of obsidian were retrieved, including complete flakes and angular fragments. They all appeared to have been sourced from Tuhua (Mayor Island).
Obsidian suggests tool manufacturing was taking place at the site. The obsidian may also have been used for cutting and scraping implements for food processing or working with plant and fibre material.
"Tuhua obsidian was widely used and is found across New Zealand."
All artefacts will be registered and likely conserved by Tauranga Museum in consultation with tangata whenua.
Traffic was being moved on to the newly constructed road to enable the existing road to be rebuilt. The traffic switch takes place from August to October.
The roundabout was part of the $15 million of works being carried out by the agency as part of the transfer of ownership of the former State Highway 2 to the Western Bay of Plenty District Council.
The roundabout was now scheduled to be completed later this year after delays because of the archaeological finds, wet weather and challenging ground conditions.