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Kohika (V15/80) is a swamp pa near the Tarawera River and on its flood plain. It is set back from the coast, centred on a remnant of the sand ridge left by an earlier coastline. The central sand mound has been added to by imported material along its periphery. The site was palisaded and clear evidence exists that water lapped against at least part of its periphery. The present-day site is near to a small lake, and the site may well have been completely surrounded by water when it was occupied.

Excavation revealed that the site had been occupied for some period of time, with three succeeding house floor levels in the built-up part. The site was used for a period around the late 17th century. The site may have been used for as long as 180 years, but more likely for 40–80 years, based on a sophisticated analysis of the carbon dates. Use of the site seems to have ceased following a massive flood that infilled the lake at the periphery of the site, possibly rendering it too accessible and reducing security and/or lessening access to resources by canoe. Some burials were made in the site after discontinuation of residential use.

The interior of the site area is differentiated with respect to function. The higher and drier part has been used primarily for storage pits for crops that must have been grown elsewhere. Other parts of the site were used for pole and thatch houses and cooking.

Location and Date

Kohika is on the Rangitaiki Plains in North Island New Zealand. Site V15/80 (NZMS 1 No. N68/104)

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The Kawerau River outlet to the sea to the north of the site is a modern feature.

The site dates to the latter half of the 17th century.


The site is described by its excavator as a lake village. It occupies a low sand knoll on the edge of what was a shallow lake at the time of its occupation. Some of the occupational deposits extend into the former lake. It was defended. A conventional shorthand is that is was a swamp pa.


Project Directors

The project director was Geoff Irwin. The site was first investigated in 1974 by members of the Whakatane District Historical Society, including Dave White, Ken Moore and Anton van der Wouden. The subsequent work has been by Irwin, commencing in 1975 and initially continuing until 1981.There has been renewed excavation since 2004.


Other Contributing Specialists

Ian Lawlor and Joanna Boileau both worked at the site and wrote MA theses on aspects of the site.

Contributors to the excavation report included: Mat McGlone, Kevin Jones, Martin Jones, Rod Wallace, Roger Neich, S McAra, Phil Moore, Simon Holdaway, Reg Nichol, M Taylor, Trevor Worthy, Ian Smith, Mark Horrocks, Lynn Williams, H J Hall, S L Nichol.

Boileau, Joanna 1978 Wood from Kohika, A Study of Exploitation and Wood-working Technology. M.A. Research Essay, University of Auckland.

Lawlor, I 1979 Paleoenvironment Analysis: An Appraisal of the Prehistoric Environment of the Kohika Swamp Pa (N68/140), Bay of Plenty. M.A. Thesis, University of Auckland.

Site workers


Much wooden and fibrous material was found at the site. In the wetter parts of the site, a wealth of wood and other organic material was recovered (Wallace & Irwin 2004), as well as the pataka and superior house parts. The wooden material found at this site included bird spears (a bone point was also found), ko (digging stick), a ko footrest, a spade, weeding sticks, detachable spade blades, fernroot beaters, bowls, paddles, a steering paddle, canoe hull parts and fittings, net gages, tops, adze and chisel handles, fibre-working tools, a ladder, wedges, lashing vines, and javelins. Enough parts of a superior house were found to convincingly reconstruct technological details and the form of the house or houses represented. From these, Wallace & Irwin (1999) hypothesised that house construction in New Zealand had close affinity with canoe construction, using similar types of lashing and joint detailing. No short or long clubs were found. The javelins are the only potential weapons in the assemblage. Interestingly, six combs of the round-topped form were also found. These were the later form identified from the Kauri Point Swamp site. None were broken through the frame, so the reason for their deposition here would seem to differ from that at Kauri Point. The site dating for Kohika (i.e. extending into the 17th century) is consistent with Green’s (1978) dating of the Kauri Point depository.

Several wooden pieces from the site (including house posts) were carved. On the basis of the style of the carving, Wallace et al. (2004) considered that four different carvers were involved in the decoration of these pieces. Gourd rind fragments also occur in the deposits, some formed into open containers with notched rims and one with an incised decoration (Irwin et al. 2007). A wide variety of fish and bird bone was obtained from the site (Irwin et al. 2004; Appendix 4). While the amount of bone material was not large, it was very diverse. Whale bones present were fresh and had been dog-gnawed. Seal and dog bones had been used industrially to make tools, and dogs also appear to have been eaten. There were also human bones present that had received some industrial use. The bird species recorded were from ocean, coastal, wetland and forest environments. Bone hooks and nets were present among the artefacts, and it appears that fish were caught using a variety of techniques.

Obsidian was common at the site. Moore (2004) identified the majority of pieces as coming from Mayor Island (Tuhua), but some were from Taupo and the Maketu pebble source. Holdaway (2004) looked at the form of the obsidian flakes, and found that the presence of utilised flakes and waste material varied over the site. There was little evidence of production of any formal obsidian tool types at Kohika. The occupants frequently discarded large flakes, which suggests that the material was not highly valued and could be easily replaced. It seems likely that the occupants had good access to the Mayor Island (Tuhua) source of obsidian, either by exchange or direct collection. Other artefacts recovered from the site include a bone tiki, cordage, woven matting, two nephrite adzes, a nephrite chisel and two nephrite pendants, a drilled human tooth, a bone toggle, fishing gear, needles, a bone awl, a bone chisel, pumice containers, and a pumice kumara god. (after Law 2008)


Excavation Report

The principal report is: Kohika The archaeology of a late Maori lake village in the Ngati Awa rohe, Bay of Plenty New Zealand. Edited G Irwin, 2004, Auckland University Press.

Other Papers

Irwin, G.J.; Wallace, R.; Green, S. 2007 An archaeological collection of gourd artefacts from the Kohika lake village. Pp. 43–52 in Anderson, A.J.; Green, K.; Leach B.F. (Eds): 2007: Vastly ingenious; the archaeology of pacific material culture in honour of Janet M Davidson. Otago University Press, Dunedin.

M Horrocks, G Irwin, M Jones, D Sutton 2004 Starch grains and xylem cells of sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and bracken (Pteridium esculentum) in archaeological deposits from northern New Zealand Journal of Archaeological Science 31(3}:251-258.

Taylor, Graeme; Irwin, Geoffrey; Clark, Geoffrey; Leach, Foss; O’Connor, Sue 2008 The dry and the wet: The variable effect of taphonomy on the dog remains from the Kohika Lake Village, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand Islands of Inquiry: Colonisation, seafaring and the archaeology of maritime landscapes ANU Press Terra Australis 29 http://dspace.anu.edu.au/handle/1885/47207

Irwin, G. 2005. Kohika, a late Mãori lake village in Northern New Zealand. Journal of Wetland Archaeology 5:129-141.

Irwin, G., and P. Ngaropo. 2005. Renewed archaeological investigations at Kohika. Historical Review 52:7-15.

Auckland University - Faculty of Arts - Department of Anthropology Field Schools Kohika 2005 http://www.arts.auckland.ac.nz/uoa/kohika2005 accessed 2010.