Collaborative Archaeology and Restoration on Marae DIY

By Brigid Gallagher 06/07/2011

One of the missions I originally set for myself on Digging the Dirt was to show that New Zealand was archaeologically exciting and dynamic.  Tonight’s instalment of Marae DIY on Maori TV has to be a great example of this.  As part 2 of a double feature the Marae DIY team are undertaking the restoration of an archaeological site, Ongarahu Pa in the Western Bay of Plenty.

This is the first of this type of restoration to be attempted by the series makers. The first episode last Wednesday saw the collaborative community project bringing together iwi, council, NZHPT, scientists, engineers and a television crew to:

Landscape and stabilise the Pa site, add planting and erect manuka palisades.

What struck me watching the episode was that collaborative discussions involving heritage do not happen very often in the public arena in New Zealand;

Where you see and hear real thoughts and opinions, about a subject that is often fraught with different perspectives, and potentially, desired outcomes.

What seemed to be common to all of the people interviewed on the programme, and to my mind aided the success of the project, was that everybody was working to a common goal:

The stabilisation, protection and educational aspect of a Pa site

Unity of this kind can never be underestimated on any project, and is particularly exciting when there is the opportunity for and recognition of knowledge to be shared.

Archaeology in the New Zealand context (and also in many countries where colonisation has occurred), is inexplicably inter-twined with anthropology, ethnography and history.  Because of this, and this really should be the exciting bit,

Oral histories, written texts and science can sit side by side.  This in turn can lead to better communication, understanding and education…for all involved.

Luckily for me Dr Louise Furey, the archaeologist on the programme, and Julie Sparham, Pirirakau, gave an interesting presentation about the collaboration to the New Zealand Archaeological Association conference last month, where they continued to demonstrate positive relationships being built between iwi and heritage specialists. 

The Format:

Through the format of the episode (I don’t know if it followed the regular format — but was distinctly recognisable as a tried and true example used on the UK archaeology series Time Team), conversations and scenes switched between the

iwi voice and perspective, the site and DIY team, the ‘Pakeha’ voice and perspective (including the council, archaeology, engineering etc) and back to the DIY team and site again.

It felt like this cyclic technique worked because it allowed for the layering of small pieces of information, but showed a clear link between them, which led us through the episode, creating a multi-disciplinary and bi-cultural story.

There was also plenty of digger action, DIY and building dilemmas, and people standing in the trenches leaning on shovels.  What I am getting at, is real life action which anybody who has worked outside, in the garden, renovating their home or working on the road, would identify with.  In fact I would bet that if the kids are up at this time of night, they would like the digger action and great big holes being dug too!

And in true telly and multi movie style the episode ended on a ‘wanting more’ scenario…

previously undiscovered archaeology had been found….!

Excellent…the next programme for the reveal is tonight.

Different Perspectives

Viewing the Pa through different eyes and perspectives was probably my favourite element of the episode, and what made this a programme feel that it could only have been made in Aoteoroa — New Zealand (that and the bi-lingual content).

These voices allowed the layers and context of the archaeology (and I am focussing on archaeology because that is what I do) to be widened with allegory and personification of the site.

A favourite moment for me near the beginning of the episode saw presenter Te Ori Paki observing that the trenches felt like arteries to the pa; pathways for the blood to nourish the pa, the tangata, the whenua.   

He and fellow presenter, Aroha, were struck by the massive amount of manpower it must have taken to construct them.  They voiced the thought that these very wide and deep trenches were symbolic and a great indicator of the lengths that people go to, to protect their families, land and resources.

This ability to feel a connection with the past and ancestors is something that I have found to be a major force within archaeology time and time again.  It really is very difficult to be on an archaeological site, digging beneath the surface, and not feel something of the people that lived, worked or walked there.  It is not specific to the tangata whenua of Aotearoa, it is built into all of us as humans.

The Archaeology

Whilst iwi and the presenters may have undertaken a personal journey during the filming, never far behind was archaeologist Louise Furey.  She was required to be there under the Historic Places Act, but her knowledge of the local landscape and evidence of prehistoric Maori occupation and land use added a scientific and educational element to the episode. 

Archaeologically the Ongarahu Pa site is considered significant because it has some of the best preserved pre-Pakeha trenches in the country. 

The archaeological content in the episode was wide ranging:

  • Louise speaking with the people on the site that she needed to be informed of any sub-surface digging before it was done, and she needs to check the ‘hole’ for any archaeological evidence, and to record it, before it was filled in again.
  • Explanation of how the stratigraphy and soil texture/composition changed when archaeology was present.  The normal topsoil then subsoil profile did not fit.
  • A conversation between Louise and a male worker on site about fortifications.  They appear to be standing next the deep outer ditch when he asks about the use of the ditches.  She explains they are the fortifications, and as they are dug out the soil is thrown up to create the bank around the Pa, alongside the ditch.
  • Features known to be present on this type of site, including pits, postholes and gardens.
  • Conservation elements, such as the laying of a geotech barrier that will announce to anybody digging on the site in the future where the disturbed and non-disturbed ground ends and begins.
  • Methods of digging, such as hand digging over machine digging — and the care required when digging: to only take out the feature fill.
  • What is required to appropriately record archaeology, including photography, measuring and written descriptions.

The Archaeological Cliffhanger….

Then at the very end of the episode, it is noted that some of the post holes dug for palisades do not fit the normal stratigraphic profile….

It is all dark fill material, to 1.80 m deep.  And the camera zooms in to show some shells in the side of the post hole.

C14 dating is mentioned.  Sampling of the material is suggested.

The camera pans across the immediate landscape to show a slight longitudinal depression in the land, and Louise explaining that it appeared there was a feature that had not been previously recorded, and it seemed to follow the general line of the already existing ditch…

Tune into tonight’s Marae DIY episode!


This should be taken slightly with tongue and cheek…, if the production team want to talk about the massive undertaking of digging the deep fortifications with digging sticks…then please do not have the camera directed at the blade of a spade.  Because using a spade would be a LOT easier than using a ko!

Future Collaborative Projects??

At the NZAA conference Julie Sparham called Louise ‘taonga’.  This is not a label given lightly I am sure.  Hopefully it serves to demonstrate that relationships and respect can evolve between iwi and some archaeologists and heritage bodies.  Which also hopefully means the future looks exciting and dynamic for New Zealand archaeology! 

I think the most appropriate ending to this conversation is a quote by Julie Sparham, Pirirakau (Ongarahu Pa caretaker and Environment Manager for the Pirirakau Incorporated Society, Western Bay of Plenty) on the episode last Wednesday:

This is where you come from.  This is our history.  This is how you have become who you are.