Archaeologists have discovered the intact skeleton of a pre-European Maori dog at a pa site in Tauranga.

The unusual find was made during a Historic Places Trust dig on the former site of Otumoetai Pa, once the main pa in the area.

Since beginning the dig last week, the archaeologists have also unearthed fish hooks believed to date from before 1600 AD.

Archaeologist Ken Phillips said the discovery of the fish hooks, made of kuri (dog) and moa bones, was exciting.

Finding the skeleton of the kuri, which resembled a mid-sized terrier and is now extinct, was also significant.

"For him to be buried intact is pretty unusual considering most of his mates probably ended up as fish hooks."

Mr Phillips said the dog was buried in a grave, suggesting it was someone's pet.

Otago University archaeology lecturer Dr Geoff Clark, who wrote a thesis on the kuri, agreed the find was rare. Only about 10 or 12 intact kuri skeletons had been found in the last two or three decades.

Dr Clark said the fact the skeleton was found at the pa's highest point, where chiefs lived, was "evidence of something unusual and ritual".

Kuri were used for meat and clothing, and their jawbones were made into fish hooks.

The discovery of remains with the hind legs or flesh removed has led experts to believe they may also have been used for ritual purposes.

They hope to continue excavation of the site, which has also yielded post-colonial artefacts such as coins, but lack $24,000 in funding to complete the work.

Local Maori have been involved in the excavation. Frank Harawira of Ngati Ranginui iwi and Ngaitamarawaho hapu said the discovery of the kuri was a highlight and the dig had taught him a lot about his tupuna (ancestors).

Mr Harawira helped dismantle an old wooden house that stood on the site before the dig.

Built in 1919, the house featured a wealth of native timber - including rimu, totara, kauri and tawa - some of which has been salvaged.

The 2ha site is also home to several old varieties of fruit trees, believed to have been planted by the first European settlers in the area.

It is hoped the land, which is owned by the Tauranga District Council, will be made into a reserve.