Salvage workers sorting through silt at the last Matata house on the clean-up list have discovered a human skull.

Buried in almost a metre of silt, the skull was found yesterday beneath the living room of the home in which Nola Neale once lived.

Ms Neale's home is adjacent to Kaokaoroa, the historic battle site and urupa (cemetery) that has been the subject of a court injunction to halt a planned subdivision by Rotorua-based Ngati Hinerangi Trust.

The subdivision has also been the cause of tensions between Maori who do not want building to go ahead and Ngati Awa, who prepared a report in support of the planned works.

Clean-up co-ordinator Wayne Checkley said a crew of eight initially thought the skull was some type of vase until a closer inspection revealed it to be human remains.

"We were sifting through the silt as Ms Neale had some pieces of china and art she wanted found," Mr Checkley said.

"Once the skull had been uncovered we called the Whakatane District Council who put us on to the right people."

Kaumatua representing the local marae gathered at the site and performed a brief service and the koiwi (bones) were re-interred at Kaokaoroa.

Iwi representative Anthony Olsen said it was a very emotional time.

"In terms of the way the service was handled, although brief, kaumatua performed a karanga and the tears that flowed were very real," Mr Olsen said.

He said former Whakatane mayor Colin Hammond, who was mucking in with the cleaning crew, had also commented on the emotions that ran high during the re-interment.

"(The) moving service reiterated that our battle to have Kaokaoroa preserved has never been a power play but about letting our tupuna (ancestors) rest in peace," Mr Olsen said.

Kaumatua believe the skull was washed through the window of Ms Neale's home with water, silt and debris.

"If you follow the path backward it would appear the skull has come from one of the trenches dug by the Historic Places Trust on May 4 during our attempt to quantify the site was a burial ground," said Mr Olsen.

"During the dig we found a human shoulder bone in the trench and senior archaeologist Rick McGovern-Wilson believed the rest of the koiwi were buried deeper," he said.

Since the trust confirmed the belief the site was not only a battleground but also an urupa, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Umutahi and Ngati Pikiao have attempted to call a hui with the subdividers.

Hapu spokeswoman Colleen Skerrett-White said despite the agreement to call a hui, Ngati Hinerangi Trust members were proving elusive.

"We go back to the Environment Court on June 16 in regard to the injunction to halt the subdivision and we need to have things sorted out by then.

"The trust members have not indicated whether they wish to carry on with their plans," she said.

A report being prepared at the request of Whakatane District Council to determine whether there are areas in Matata that can never again be built on is due for release in July and could also affect the proposal.

- DAILY POST (ROTORUA)