Wairau Bar: The smoking gun

by Sally Blundell / 28 May, 2013
Jim Eyles, whose family lived and farmed on the bar, discovered what has come to be described as the greatest archaeological find in New Zealand history.
“The birthplace of New Zealand”, our “collective hearth”, “the country’s first capital” – at the end of a long and unremarkable road through scrub and farmland, Wairau Bar has become the focus of scientific attention both here and abroad not only as the earliest settlement centre for New Zealand (maybe, perhaps, probably, say the scientists) but also as journey’s end for the last major wave of human migration that began around 3500 years ago.

A necklace of dolphin teeth found at Wairau Bar. Photo/Canterbury Museum


Evidence from human remains and artefacts unearthed from Wairau Bar several decades ago and from recent excavations and analysis over the past four years is now showing that this massive and highly successful diaspora from east Polynesia ended here, a site unlikely to be mentioned in classroom history sets but which makes New Zealand one of the few countries in the world to pinpoint what could be its first important place of landfall, so representing a baseline from which to trace the evolution of a unique culture.

At Canterbury Museum, the smoking gun for ethnologist Roger Fyfe is a 69mm worked shell identified as Acus crenulatus, one of only two clearly pre-European imports from the tropical Pacific to be found (the other being a black-lipped pearl fishing lure found on the Coromandel in 1964).

Sitting in a museum drawer, item number 1871 in the Eyles collection, it is, says Fyfe, a direct link between Wairau Bar and east Polynesia, particularly the Society, Cook, Marquesas and Austral islands where similar tools have been found from the same time period as Wairau Bar.

In 1939, 13-year-old schoolboy Jim Eyles, whose family lived and farmed on the bar, discovered what has come to be described as the greatest archaeological find in New Zealand history.

Click here to listen to Jim Eyles discussing his extraordinary find 50 years later.

Searching for “Maori curios”, he came across an unexpected cavity in the ground. Using a piece of No 8 wire, he dug out what he first thought was a gourd but which proved to be a 20cm moa egg. Further digging unearthed bones – human and hollow moa bone “reels” – as well as a large necklace with a sperm whale tooth. Local interest was huge. The egg and necklace were put on public display in the window of Jim’s uncle’s fish and chip shop, and were transported each night in a Bycrofts biscuit tin back to the local bank for safekeeping. After much discussion, Eyles sold his findings to the Dominion Museum in Wellington for £130.

Read the full story by Sally Blundell in this week's Listener:  Where it all began. Subscriber contentIcon definitionSubscriber content
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and present lend their support
86105 2018-01-19 15:45:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern pregnant: Politicians past and pres…

by RNZ

Politicians from at home and abroad are reaching out to offer congratulations to the Prime Minister mum-to-be.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND a mum
86091 2018-01-19 12:36:44Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern is going to be a Prime Minister AND…

by Katie Parker

New Zealand’s newly minted PM and bizarrely cool and normal lady Jacinda Ardern has announced that she and partner Clarke Gayford are expecting a baby

Read more
Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy
86074 2018-01-19 11:11:36Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern announces pregnancy

by RNZ

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that she is pregnant, with the baby due in June.

Read more
What the media silly season taught us
85933 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

What the media silly season taught us

by Graham Adams

To the eternal gratitude of media chiefs, each holiday period seems to throw up at least one minor scandal that runs in the absence of anything newsy.

Read more
Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more