People with an interest in New Zealand's earliest human history are invited to an open day at an archaeological dig in the Bay of Islands later this month.

Mangahawea Bay, on Moturua Island, is one of the oldest known sites where Polynesians settled in New Zealand.

Evidence for its age comes from radiocarbon dating, moa bones, shells from a limpet which became extinct around the year 1300, and the possible remains of an early taro garden.

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Volunteers and archaeologists at work during the 2017 excavation. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Volunteers and archaeologists at work during the 2017 excavation. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Other finds from previous digs include a fishing lure made to a Polynesian design but from New Zealand pāua shell, reflecting early adaptation of a tropical people to a temperate environment.

Guided tours of the 2020 excavation will take place from 9am to noon on January 15.

Visitors will have to be able to make their own way to Moturua Island. The recommended landing point is Waiwhapuku Bay, also known as Camp Bay, from where it's a short walk over the hill to Mangahawea Bay.

Ngati Kuta kaumatua Matutaera Clendon and Heritage NZ archaeologist James Robinson examine a cut into a stream bank during the 2017 excavation. Photo / Peter de Graaf
Ngati Kuta kaumatua Matutaera Clendon and Heritage NZ archaeologist James Robinson examine a cut into a stream bank during the 2017 excavation. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Once in the bay visitors should congregate at the carved pou for a tour of the site. The guide will also talk about any artefacts or features uncovered during this year's dig.

The excavation is a joint initiative between Arakite Charitable Trust, Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga, the Department of Conservation and the University of Otago. It is funded by the Lottery Tuia Encounters 250 Programme.

Visitors need to bring hats, food, water and sunscreen.

In March archaeologists, hapu members and volunteers spent two weeks digging pits at Mangahawea Bay, on Moturua Island, down to the ground level of about 700 years ago.

They found everything from a British Navy button to fish hooks carved from moa bone and a ta moko chisel.

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One of the most exciting finds, however, was the least impressive visually - a series of indentations in a former stream bed that could have been a taro garden. If the archaeologists' hunch is confirmed it could be the oldest garden found in New Zealand, and the only one from the first century or so after Māori arrived.