Human remains dug up by contractors have been placed into the care of Tauranga iwi and will be reburied once work is complete.

An archaeologist has this week been sifting through piles of dirt in Robbins Park at the end of Monmouth St searching for any remaining bone fragments, known as koiwi.

Project manager Peter Stuart said contractors were doing earthworks as part of an $11,000 project for Northpower to enhance the power supply into Tauranga CBD when they came across the pieces of bone a couple of weeks ago.

Work stopped while the Historic Places Trust and Ngai Tamarawaho were notified and all the fragments were removed. Historic Places Trust spokesman John O'Hare said it was not initially clear whether the tiny white fragments were human bone but once tests confirmed they were koiwi, iwi representatives were notified.


"The area they were working in had been previously disturbed so we weren't really expecting to find anything down there. It's not an everyday thing. It's not a regular occurrence that's for sure," he said. "It was a bit of a surprise but these things do happen from time to time."

Ngai Tamarawaho spokesperson Peri Kohu said Robbins Park had been occupied by various groups of people for hundreds of years so the find was no surprise.

"It's not unusual. Anytime you dig in Tauranga you're at risk of doing that. That's a high profile place," he said. "We treat [koiwi] with the highest respect."

History recorded some periods where the area was used as a burial ground which was confirmed by the latest discovery and there was also evidence of a midden, an old dump for domestic waste, in the area where the bone fragments were found, he said.

Once work was complete the koiwi would be returned to the same spot, blessed and marked with a GPS so they would not be disturbed again, Mr Kohu said.

Northpower contractors have been stood down while the site is checked for any last remains.

Tauranga City Council contractors working on repairing the badly damaged berms in Brown and Monmouth streets also unearthed archaeological finds earlier this month. They uncovered pottery, glass, metal, a military button, clay pipes and shells and identified postholes, ditches and small pits. The artefacts were likely to date from the early occupation of Tauranga and, in particular, the military occupation from 1864.