McGregors Bay

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McGregors Bay, Whangarei Heads

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A family farm in McGregors Bay, Whangarei Heads, has been subdivided and some of the earthworks required modification to archaeological features on the property. The property was surveyed for the project by Ivan Bruce (2003) who also prepared the Investigation Strategy for the NZHPT Authority application. Clough and Associates Ltd was asked to carry out the excavation in October 2005. Midden were excavated here


Taken from: Bickler, S.H., G. Farley, M. Plowman, R. Clough. 2007. McGregors Bay, Whangarei Heads, HPT Authority No. 2003/143. Unpublished report for NZ Historic Places Trust and Reyburn & Bryant Ltd.


Contents

Archaeologists

<googlemap lat="-35.825956" lon="174.516621" zoom="14" height="300" width="300">-35.827974, 174.51499, Whangarei Heads, New Zealand</googlemap>

Project Background

Historical Background

Various hapu of the Ngapuhi tribe have long been the tangata whenua of the greater Northland area, including Whangarei. The ample marine and freshwater resources available as well as the temperate climate meant that Whangarei was an attractive place to live. However, the positioning of Whangarei at the southernmost boundary of Nga Puhi tribal land meant that it was a focal point of retaliatory attacks from southern tribes seeking revenge on Nga Puhi (Pickmere 1986:4).

In 1820, at the beginning of the musket wars period, Reverend Samuel Marsden made an intrepid journey down the Whangarei Harbour accompanied by a Maori party. Marsden reported that everyday life in the area had already been disrupted, with villages attacked and people living in fear (Pickmere 1986:7).

In late 1821 or early 1822 Nga Puhi were defeated at Raho-ngaua pa, located at the eastern side of the entrance to Parua Bay (Figure 6). The pa was attacked by ‘an invading party of Waikato and Ngati-Paoa warriors’ (Pickmere 1986:4; Stephenson 1910). An 1823 observation of Whangarei by a party of missionaries noted that plundering and fighting in the area had led most inhabitants to flee the coast in favour of inland protection (Pickmere 1986:9).

Whangarei was to become the meeting place of northern war parties travelling further south during this period of intertribal wars. These gatherings gave Whangarei its name which literally means ‘swimming place of the whales’ but can be translated as ‘the meeting place of the chiefs’ (Pickmere 1986:3). The end of the intertribal wars was brought about during the 1830s by two factors – constant war was exhausting the tribes, and the increasing influence of missionaries (Pickmere 1986:13). Subsequently the coastal areas of Whangarei were repopulated with Maori returning to their tribal lands – not, however, to the fortified pa sites but to coastal kainga on the shores of the harbour (Pickmere 1986:14). William Colenso marked the location of a village at The Nook called Pakaraka (see Figure 7).

While Russell in the Bay of Islands had become a bustling whale port by 1838 with numerous hotels, grog shops, and billiard saloons, Whangarei’s first permanent European settler, William Carruth, did not arrive until 1839 (Pickmere 1986:19). By 1842 there were still only seven families of settlers living in Whangarei (Pickmere 1986:37). Resentment and disillusionment toward the Government had been growing among Maori since the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, and when word of an attack on settlers in Russell reached settlers in Whangarei they left their homes and sailed for Auckland. For several years there were no Europeans living in the area.

The Whangarei Heads peninsula was originally purchased by Gilbert Mair from a chief named Te Tao in 1839. The sale was not without its complications, with Te Tirarau, the paramount chief of the region, putting in a claim on the land. Over 20 years later, with the review of Old Land Claims, the settlement was finalised and the Government awarded Mair only 414 acres of the original 10,000. However, by this time, Mair had transferred all interests in the Whangarei Heads block to John Logan Campbell who continued to fight for the original claim. During the 1850s Whangarei Heads was settled by a group of Nova Scotians (Pickmere 1986:26-27), many of the old family names still present on maps dating to the 1930s (Figure 9).

Physical Landscape

Manaia dominates the backdrop to the property and is a prominent reminder of a volcanic past; the land dropping steeply from the its top. The property itself has gentler contours with smaller ridges running down towards the water into the small bay. Boulders dramatically pop out across the property, a further reminder of the volcanic origin of the land mass. With access to the rich marine resources in the sheltered bay, and easy access to the main sea routes along the coast – and those farther inland in the Harbour, the area remains a desirable location. Castle Rock rises up at western edge of the property and the name “Whangarei” is its traditional name. One tradition[1] suggests that the name Whangarei derives from ‘whanga’, to wait, and ‘rei’, to ambush, and the archaeological sites here are strategically located at the narrowing of the harbour and would have been a good place for sentries to keep guard.

Archaeological Landscape

Previous archaeological work in the area has included an intensive field study of the Whangarei Harbour area for the Northland Harbour Board by Nevin in 1984, as well as numerous small scale field surveys undertaken as part of resource consent assessments. Recent surveys include: an assessment of an 8ha block at McLeods Bay (Prince 2004), a 19.5ha block at Taurikura Bay (Baquie & Clough 2006), a 20ha block at Taiharuru (Prince & Clough 2004), an 8ha block at Tamaterau (Judge & Clough November 2006), and a property at Parua Bay (Clough 2006). However, increasing subdivision pressure in the area makes this only a sample of the work now being carried out in the region.

The coastal Whangarei Heads areas have extensive evidence of pre-European Maori occupation, with a range of features including pits, terraces, shell midden, cultivation sites and pa. The density of occupation in the Whangarei area was the result of a combination of factors that favoured settlement – access to both marine and freshwater resources, fertile soils, access to water transport routes, and areas of high altitude for the strategic siting of defensive sites with views out over the Harbour and the approaches to it.

Bruce’s (2003) survey had re-identified the sites on the Vinsen property which included a medium-size pa just to the west of the site under investigation Q07/800g. The pa site at Castle Rock, Q07/801, is a single ditch pa with views across the harbour (Figure 11). Small terraces probably provided small living platforms and midden is dispersed along the slopes. In fact, middens are found in a number of places across the property with thick middens eroding from the banks above the beach. Another small pa is present nearby in the small island in the harbour. Pipi dominate the sites identified in contrast to the cockle middens identified on the opposite side of the harbour at One Tree Point (see e.g., Phillips and Harlow 2001, and Bickler et al. 2007).

Excavation Results

Excavation

Excavation was carried out the 7th - 9th of November 2005. The project area was divided into 2 main areas, Area A to the east (Figure 12, Figure 13) and Area B (Figure 12, Figure 14) to the west Diggers were used to clear the main access ways from the main road across the properties to the various allotments. Monitoring of the topsoil removal was carried out and features uncovered were investigated. The results (Figure 12, Table 1) are summarised below:

  • Area A: Four areas (A1-A4) of shell midden scatter were identified in this zone and were investigated. Site Q07/798 was also investigated and more midden scatters were identified here than originally reported.
  • Area B: Four areas (B1-B4) of shell midden scatter were identified in this zone and were investigated. Site Q07/800g was also investigated but no archaeological features were identified.

Q07/800g

The knoll identified by Bruce (2002) as a possible house site was stripped using a digger (Figure 15) but no archaeological features were identified. A trench was extended deeper but with no further results (Figure 16). However small obsidian flakes and a core (Figure 17 and Figure 18) were found in the topsoil suggested that it is possible the knoll was used in the past.

A1

This site was located on a south west facing slump terrace below the main road (Figure 12). A number of other small scattered shell deposits (Figure 19) are present in areas exposed within 20m.

The main concentration is a scatter of midden 7m x 5m (Figure 20). The material has a clean matrix with very little charcoal. No hangi were identified. This site though appears not to have been ploughed. Midden is predominantly pipi and large but some other species were present but not abundant. The midden is mostly shallow (2-5cm) but in some locations it is up to 15cm deep. Samples were collected from features 1-4. A fine scattering of charcoal is present over some of the area exposed by the road but this seems to be related to bush clearance in the 19th C. A possible grinding stone was also seen (Figure 21).

A2

This site was located on a south west facing terrace (Figure 12). It consists of a small thin scatter of shell (Figure 22). The core area is a deposit about 1.40m x 0.80m x 0.05cm deep. Pipi, cockle some fine charcoal were identified with no ash found in the clean matrix.

A3

This site consisted of a smear of shell roughly 15m x 4m on the SW side of a small knoll of a ridge running south into McGregors Bay (Figure 23). A sample of shell was collected from the surface of the deposit following the area being cleared down (Figure 24). A test pit into the deposit revealed that this site was totally unlike any of the other sites excavated in the Area A in that its depth was considerable more than 5-10cm (Figure 25). The test pit was stopped at a depth of 50cm and some extents of the deposit were then explored. This revealed a hard back edge of the deposit. No firm edge of the front (down slope – SW) could be identified. Within this deposit was whole, and quite large, pipi with a mostly clean fill – some charcoal.

It was decided that a digger would be of use in examining the extent of this deposit and so two cuts were made. These cuts descended in a series of spits down through the deposit. The first of the cuts was placed in the area of the test pit – roughly the centre of the deposit. An excavation revealed a maximum depth of 70cm for the shell – and another 2-5cm of soil below this before a clay base. This area also exhibited a cut on the back edge of the deposit. The distance from the cut edge to the front of the mixed fill in this location is 2.5m. The solid shell deposit ended after about a meter – following this was a mixed fill of soil and shell. Throughout the excavation of the shell deposit a quantity of charcoal within the matrix was observed and a sample collected – the third to last spit (7th) (at a depth of 60cm) revealed a quantity of preserved burnt wood within the shell deposit.

The second of the cuts was placed near the SE edge of the deposit and revealed a thin area of shell with a shell and soil fill. The deposit at this area thinned out over an area of just 1m with a max depth of 40 cm. Evidence of a cut edge within this cut was hard to discern.

Following an examination of the fill it was believed that this deposit may have represented the infilling of a terrace. To ascertain the validity of this an area to the SW of the shell deposit was cleared down – and the cuts were taken down to the level of the clay – only a very thin topsoil was found of this area – which was not level – sloped to the SW an had no evidence of filling at the SW edge of this area. No features were identified within either the topsoil or at the level of the clay. Any terrace in this area would have been about 4m in depth

A4

This site consisted of a circular mound of shell and rock measuring 3m x 3m. This was located on the small central ridge line running south between the two streams (Figure 26). A sample of the shell material and matrix was collected from the top of the deposit following the initial revealing of the site extent. This deposit was half sectioned. The eastern side was removed in a series of four spits by the digger. This revealed that the majority of the rock within the deposit was near the top. The deposit had a maximum depth of 40cm. No hangi pits or any other features were identified either within the deposit or in the surrounding area. A second sample was collected from near the base of the deposit. The deposit consisted of pipi shells within a soil/clay matrix with a quantity of the local rock interspersed. No charcoal was identified.

Q07/798

(Lot 4)

This location was identified as a possible archaeological site in 1983 (see Bruce 2002 for further details). Shell midden is clearly visible on the side of headland with some possible terraces suggesting a potential for a habitation site. A series of trenches were excavated by digger running along the ridge and headland to try to identify possible archaeological deposits on the site (Figure 27). A series of trenches were excavated running from the tip of the headland back inland, within this area only a small 2m x 2m scattering of shell midden was identified, depth 2cm (Figure 28, Figure 29). This deposit was fragmented and whole pipi, within a clean matrix.

B1

After clearing of the area of Q07/800g, a driveway path was excavated up towards the western boundary of the proposed allotment to join up with main accessways for the properties (Figure 12). A thin scatter of shell was found in the saddle of the spur about 30m west of the Q07/800g (Figure 30) with a concentration of large pipi visible along the northern slope. However, it is likely that ploughing has destroyed any structural features.

B2

This small concentration of pipi midden was found around a large boulder along the proposed driveway (Figure 32). The pipi appears to have fallen around the rock and no structural features were identified.

B3

This concentration of large pipi shell was found 5m to the west of area B2 (Figure 12) and appears to have been deposited from a single processing event (Figure 33). The concentration was about 1m x 2m and up to 15cm thick in places (Figure 34). It is likely that this material, along with other shell scatters around the upper knoll on the spur (not excavated) represent a cooking zone for nearby living areas.

B4

This site consisted of a scatter of pipi shell over an around 3m x 4m (Figure 35 Area B4). No intact features were identified.

B5

An irregular oval shaped shell deposit extending over an area measuring 11m x 10m (Figure 36). Two core areas were identified within this measuring 6m x 6m and 6m x 3m (Figure 37). A sample of the shell material and matrix was collected from the top of the deposit within both of the core areas. This deposit had a trench put through near the northern edge of the deposit (running roughly SW to NE) over about 12m. This was cut be the digger and removed in two spits. This trench revealed the site to be between two and 7cm deep within the core areas and no more than a fine scattering outside of that. The deposit consisted of whole and fragmented pipi shell, within a clean soil matrix. No charcoal was identified.

Analysis

Analysis of Midden

Fourteen samples of midden material were submitted for analysis from the Vinson property at Whangarei Heads. The samples submitted for analysis recovered from Q07/800g are from two features and one concentration of midden deposition. Nine samples of midden material were submitted for analysis from four ‘New areas’. Two samples from hangi and two samples from features were submitted for analysis from ‘B1’, and one sample from ‘Lot 4’ (probably part of Q07/798) was analysed to obtain identification of species and minimum number of individuals. Detailed analysis of contents from these features is provided below.

All midden samples were sieved through a 2mm screen enabling the bulk of soil to be removed. Diagnostic portions of shellfish were then separated into individual species and counted to obtain MNI. The diagnostic portion of bivalves focused on hinges, which were counted in total and divided by two to obtain a minimum number for each species. No faunal material such as fish, bird, or mammal bone was recovered from any of the samples submitted for analysis. Once diagnostic material had been collected the remaining material was floated to enable charcoal samples to be extracted for radiocarbon dating.

Q07/800g

Paphies australis (pipi) is the dominant species present within these samples, the largest of which measures 75.70mm in length. Paphies subtriangulata (tuatua) is also well represented with the largest example measuring 71.92mm in length. Austrovenus stutchburyi (cockle) was recovered in moderate quantities from the concentration and Feature 2, with only a representative sample of four recovered from Feature 3. The majority of shellfish identified within these samples was sourced from sandy shore/ mud-flat environments, with only Crepidula costata (ribbed slipper shell) commonly located in rocky shore environments, however this species may also attach itself to other shells. The presence of the two examples of Zethalia zelandica (wheel shell) recovered from the concentration and Feature 2 cannot easily be explained as these species concentrate in deep water, however it is possible these shells were washed inshore after the animal had expired.

Area B Sites

All of the shell identified was extracted from a sandy shore/ mud-flat environment with Paphies australis (pipi) numbering the greatest (n=100). The largest example of Paphies subtriangulata (n=44) measured 72.35mm in length. Very few juveniles were present which suggests either selective determinants based on size were occurring or collection occurred towards the end of the spawning season.

Area A

The midden material from the four new features in area A predominantly sourced from a sandy shore/ mud-flat environment, the majority of which is comprised of Paphies subtriangulata, tuatua (n=244) and Paphies australis, pipi (n=126). No cockle shell was recovered from Sites 4 or 5. Rocky shore species are represented only by one possible example of Lepsiella scobina (oyster borer) and one Turbo smaragdus (cat’s eye).

Q07/798

The overall shell sample from this location was small with all species recovered from a sandy shore/ mud flat location. The single example of Crepidula costata or ribbed slipper shell had probably attached itself to one of the larger Paphies australis shells.

      Minimum Number of Individuals    
Species Q07/800g Unrecorded Sites New Sites   ===== Q07/798 =====


  Conc Ft2 Ft3 B1 B2 B3 B4 A2 A3 A4 A5  
Austrovenus stutchburyi
31
25
4
     
4
17
1
   
4
Paphies australis
74
65
188
17
33
46
4
10
95
19
2
12
Paphies subtriangulata
21
53
39
11
 
13
20
2
165
54
23
 
Paphies sp.                    
10
 
Cominella glandiformis
1
   
1
   
1
 
2
   
2
Dosinia anus
3
           
3
3
1
   
Amphibola crenata
4
             
1
1
   
Turbo smaragdus                
1
     
Zethalia zelandica
1
1
           
1
     
Crepidula costata
1
                   
1
Struthiolaria papulosa
1
                     
Lepsiella scobina?                
1
     
Opercula
2
           
1
1
 
2
5
Unidentified gastropod
2
2
2
         
1
1
   
                         
Lithics
7
15
16
                 

Charcoal

The two samples from are dominated by woody species indicating open environments or re-growth scrub vegetation. Of the remainder puriri tends to survive forest clearance and is still abundant on the modern landscape. While hinau or pokaka and matai are more typical of forest they are rare in these samples. The presence of abundant kauri is out of place in the context of this assemblage, however, branches and roots of this species are very resinous and typically survive as sub-fossil wood on landscapes where the living trees have long been absent.

Table 2 Charcoal identified in midden (Analysis by Dr Rod Wallace)

Name Scientific Name Habitat 800g A3 Total
Akeake Dodonaea viscosa Shrub  
1
1
Fivefinger Pseudopanax arboreus Shrub
3
 
3
Hebe Hebe species Shrub
1
 
1
Kanuka Kunzea ericoides Scrub
12
15
27
Kauri Agathis australis Conifer
5
11
16
Mahoe Melicytus ramiflorus Scrub  
5
5
Manuka Leptospermum scoparium Scrub
2
2
4
Puriri Vitex lucens Broadleaf tree
3
 
3
Tutu Coriaria arborea Shrub
1
3
4
Shrub sp. Unidentified Shurb Shrub
1
 
1
Ngaio Myoporum laetum Shrub
1
7
8
Hinau/Pokaka Elaeocarpus dentatus or hookerianus Broadleaf tree
1
 
1
Matai Prumnopitys taxifolia
1
 
1
Bracken Pteridium esculentum (bracken rhizome) Fern  
1
1
Mapau Myrsine australis Scrub  
1
1
Total    
31
46
77

Chronology

Date

The shell sample dated and expected to date to between 1500 and 1850 AD. The result is shown in Table 3 dates between 1465-1530AD (at 1σ) (Figure 38) i.e. during the 15th or early 16th Centuries. This is a bit earlier than expected but not dramatically so.

Table 3. Samples sent for Radiocarbon dating

Label Sample Material Raw Error Curve -2σ -1σ +1σ +2σ
Q07/800g Wk20566 Shell
720
35
Marine 1440 1465 1530 1610

Interpretation

The scatters generally appear to be relatively short term occupations with little significant internal stratification.

A number of other radiocarbon dates had been obtained during previous fieldwork on sites at the One Tree Point (Phillips and Harlow 2001, Bickler et al. 2007, Campbell 2006) and Takahiwai (Harlow et al. 2007) on the opposite side of the harbour. Another date from Jones et al. (2002) for a site at Pataua South (north of the current project area) is also included. These dates are illustrated along with those from Q07/800g in Figure 39.

Q07/800g dates to what is generally referred to as the “Classic” Maori Period – but at the earlier end of this period when compared with the other dates. It is distinct from the earlier “Archaic” sites which generally have a wider range of artefact material present in deposits. Q07/800g is similar to the smaller midden sites found throughout the region although it lacks the internal complexity of features found at of the larger sites found nearby at One Tree Point (Phillips and Harlow (2001) and in scale of shell fish processing described at Omaha Beach (Campbell et al. 2004, Bickler et al. 2003).

Discussion and Conclusions

Discussion

The results of the excavation have provided a useful addition to understanding the Maori use of Whangarei Heads. Although no evidence of a house was identified in Q07/800g, the midden deposits nearby suggest that the area was primarily used for cooking and processing seafood perhaps with minor dwellings nearby. The close proximity of the pa at Castle Rock was probably the main location for food storage and dwellings.

The results of the excavation of Q07/800g can be placed within the growing corpus of archaeological information from around the Whangarei District and in particular from the sites recently excavated around One Tree Point.

Middens excavated at One Tree Point by Phillips and Harlow (2001) contained a large number of features including oven scoops, caches of hangi stones, bin pits and complexes of postholes and stake holes. Q07/1124, for instance, probably contained 2 phases of use and numerous cooking events. Postholes in the larger sites suggest the presence of a variety of shelters and as Phillips and Harlow (2001:35) argue the main wood components were purposefully removed for reuse. A line of stakeholes suggestive of a brush fence at site Q07/1123 (Phillips and Harlow 2001:43ff) also provides good evidence that some of these sites may have been occupied over a period of some months (probably for the duration of the summer).

The other important features found at One Tree Point were the odd shaped “bin pits”. Generally ranging in size 40-120cm long, 28-65cm wide and up to 35cm deep, Phillips and Harlow (2001:75) attribute these to small storage pits for the smoked shellfish. This is quite plausible although one can also imagine that they may have acted as small pantries, storing root crops used during the stay on the dunes. Their presence also supports the notion that, in some cases, the stay on the Point could have consisted for a considerable number of weeks.

At the other end of the spectrum are the smaller sites consisting of a number of cooking areas with little other evidence of either housing or other activities (Phillips and Harlow [2001:84] Q07/1148 Campbell 2006, Bickler et al. 2007). The sites probably were just small cooking areas with only small shelters nearby. These are likely to have been widespread from One Tree Point through to Marsden Point. The more complex sites were generally located nearer the coastline. Q07/1238 at Takahiwai falls somewhat in the middle of the spectrum – covering an area larger than the smaller sites but without any evidence of large habitation structures. Its proximity to the neighbouring pa may represent a functional relationship, a separation of earlier cooking areas from major habitation, not present at One Tree Point.

Cockle and Pipi

Cockle was the predominate species exploited on the southern harbour but other species were found. It was the vast quantity of shell that was the overwhelming feature of the occupation evidence. Phillips and Harlow (2001) estimated something of the order of 36 million shells were represented by the sites they examined at One Tree Point and when combined with the other midden sites found nearby, including some major sites elsewhere which have not yet been excavated, it becomes difficult to underestimate the importance of the cockle to the local food cycle in pre-European times. However, there is a greater diversity of species at Q07/1238 representing the use of the mangrove swamps nearby which were probably too convenient to resist.

The sites excavated in McGregor’s Bay appear to be uniformly characterised by pipi-dominated middens although tuatua and cockle were found in moderate quantities. Although the radiocarbon date from McGregor’s Bay was towards the early end of the One Tree Point sequence (around 1500AD), it is likely that the pipi dominance at sites on the opposite side of the Bay continued on later and the difference between the projects is not temporal. G. Nevin (1982 cited in Phillips and Harlow 2001) reports that there are two forms of pipi, the common pipi along with a local variant called kokota and so was exploited as much as cockle was on the southern shorelines. Kokota is now reportedly only found on the banks at entrance to the Harbour.

Fishing

The evidence of fishing is sparse at Q07/800g compared with the shellfish but the data particularly from Phillips and Harlow (2001) and Campbell (2006) does indicate that a range of fishing was carried out. Snapper and shark were identified at Takahiwai which correlates with the presence of snapper, kahawai and shark identified at One Tree Point. The paucity of direct evidence of fishing though should not necessarily mean that fishing was not important. Unlike smoking shellfish, where the shells are left behind, fish preservation may involve minimal preparation and therefore may leave little evidence that is archaeologically recoverable. The stake holes found around some of the firescoops at One Tree Point sites probably indicates drying and smoking frames for a range of kai moana and may also be the case at Q07/1238 at Takahiwai. Dogs may also have contributed significantly to the paucity of fishbone recovered as they tend to eat the scraps. It is unlikely that fishing was not carried out from Q07/800g.

Conclusion

It is possible that this area was used as a temporary shellfish and fish processing area where cooking and smoking were carried out away from the main living area at the neighbouring pa site. The larger area of shell appears to have been created by cooking directly on the midden surface followed by raking out of the debris. A small number of definite firescoops perhaps were used for cooking staples such as kumara as part of meals where longer cooking times and hangi stones were required. The radiocarbon date suggests the site was used during the mid- late 15th Century through to the early 16th Century AD.

Overall, the excavation of Q07/800g has contributed to the growing body of information relating to the occupation of the Whangarei Heads in both pre-colonial period.

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  1. http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/WhangareiTribes/3/en