Returning to Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island)

As the archaeologist at Auckland Museum I most enjoy digging in the ground, getting my hands dirty, and the satisfaction of removing layers of soil to uncover postholes, fireplaces and stone flakes from where people hundreds of years ago decided to set up camp for a while.

When I am in the office I describe the objects in our collection and use them for research. I also receive enquiries from the public and professionals about our collections, which come from around the world as well as New Zealand.

But like most archaeologists it is the field work I like best. I even derive some perverse pleasure from the sore back and knees I experience in the first few days of an excavation when I discover muscles I haven’t used for a while.

These muscles will be in use again this week when we head off for the next stage in a joint archaeology project with the University of Auckland on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island), off the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula.

The view from my ‘office’ for the next few weeks.

The view from my ‘office’ for the next few weeks.

This is a long term research project looking at the history of occupation on the island. We are collaborating with Ngati Hei, and with the owner of the island Sir Michael Fay.

Last summer the first excavations were carried out and students from the university on the Fieldschool course learned how to excavate. We excavated a garden site and also a site in the dunes where fish, seals, dog and shellfish were cooked.

There was a regular blog written by staff and students on our activities, complete with photographs showing progress. The blog is being revived for this field season.

We are returning to the island for three weeks of excavation on a garden site in the northwest part of the island and on a settlement site in the middle of the island. It will be challenging, rewarding, and most of the time it will be good, although when it is wet, very windy, or very hot, my office in Auckland Museum will be more appealing.

However, all the trying days will be forgotten when we have excavated a big area of a site and uncovered the postholes which show the outline of a house (hopefully houses), where the fireplace was inside the house, where the cooking area was, and where the people who lived there dug their pits to store the kumara tubers or where they dropped the stone flakes they used as tools. This is uncovering the past.

Hearth stones of a fireplace inside a house.

Hearth stones of a fireplace inside a house.

Join us as we make our discoveries by following the Great Mercury excavation blog. Become an armchair archaeologist and ask questions about the excavations through the blog, all without having to get your hands dirty.

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