Pre-European bones have been uncovered by Kawhia locals digging in the sand dunes at their beach.

While it may have given the finders a fright, the discovery of bones was a regular occurrence for police.

However, these particular bones were more special after police confirmed they were from the pre-European era.

Waikato police Detective Senior Sergeant Nigel Keall said the action of the current had eventually given up their secret hiding place.

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"It's basically that the burial ground has been some distance away from the water's edge.

"It's just the action of the current on the water's edge, it changes a lot of the time.

"You're talking sand dunes which are vulnerable to being eroded by water or the wind, and also if you're talking about sand dunes and beaches a lot of people dig recreationally as well."

The discovery was made by locals digging in the sand, he said.

"They were reported to us. It was just some locals digging in the sand opposite the marae out at Kawhia. There's been some earth movement and the skulls and bones were uncovered.

"It might have given some people a fright but it isn't that unusual. Some people probably think they're animal bones, some people probably recognise it for what it is and cover them up again without actually notifying us."

He was pleased the members of the public contacted them which meant they would now contact the Waikato District Council to see if it was aware of the burial site.

As for how they assess the bones, it was similar to any other assessment of remains.

"It's an assessment we do in terms of the likelihood of them being historic remains versus something from a suspicious death.

"The level of investigation and examination of the bones varies accordingly but we will have some expert to look and confirm exactly what they are in terms of how old they are.

"We work together with the coroner and the local council so they work in relation to identifying and repatriating them because there's a lot of local knowledge around where these local sites are, some of the main ones we're aware of others we're not so aware of, so that's where locally we bring the council in."

Often the expert assessment can involve viewing only so they wouldn't have to be too disturbed.

"We'll have them viewed. Sometimes they can be viewed in situ. They can then be covered up again or repatriate without too much disturbance. If they're old they may require more examination."

He said the bones had been moved to a safer spot as they were sitting quite close to the water's edge.

"I know they were moved due to the fact that they were near the water line so there was a risk that we would lose them, but how far they've been moved, they'd still be in the urupa area but exactly where I'm not sure."