Day 3 of field school

Shelter for the total station

Shelter for the total station

Our excavation definitely picked up the pace today, who would’ve thought that spending the entire day outside overlooking beautiful beach scenery would be such a busy task! The day started out with some wonderful news from the supervisors- impending rain. Most people would think to gear up neck to ankle to stay dry; this was definitely not the case. Instead we all wore the finest of the summer 2016 fashion season; raincoats, shorts and jandals! Luckily the weather stayed manageable, and the rain ensured that we didn’t get a face full of sand every time someone cleaned up their area, a huge bonus!



Everyone spent the day clearing the layer we exposed yesterday and taking a peek at what lies beneath. This meant, as per usual, a lot of troweling, crouching and complaining of sore knees. Despite the rain and wind, we were all very excited to start digging up some treasures of the past, including obsidian, fire cracked rock, and a few pieces of shell! Nothing more exciting than hearing that clink of promise off the edge of your trowel, or seeing a glint of something special in the sunlight after troweling, brushing and carting off buckets and buckets and BUCKETS of sand.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Things are going to start getting really exciting from now on; we are exposing more and more of our unique and wonderful history everyday, everything changes with the scrape of a trowel- so make sure to keep up!


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Day One of field school

On the shorefront of Coralie Bay we began excavating extensions based on last years field school. We expected this to be a real backbreaker and deturfing lived up to the expectation. However, getting down on our hands and knees and trowelling was easier than expected. Unlike regular gardening you spend a lot of time  looking for artefacts and features related to the site and then you have to sift through the dirt again – quite a tedious and repetitive process! But the scenery really made up for this. Coralie Bay is quite sheltered with surrounding cliffs and pristine clear water. Pohutukawa lines the shorefront providing shelter from the sun.

Excavation underway

Excavation underway

We headed out at 8am after an early start to the day with high hopes. Once at the site we found a practical use for trigonometry to set out the excavation area. There were two extensions, Easterly and Southerly. After a brief demonstration from Dr. Rod Wallace of how not to deturf we proceeded to deturf both sites. Once deturfed, trowelling! This was where things became exciting. As finds became more frequent and exhaustion grew we began to really appreciate New Zealand archaeology. We ended the morning grateful digging through sand was not to difficult.

The afternoon began hot and remained that way. We continued trowelling through the layers and uncovering more finds which made it all worth it. This was a very rare opportunity to understand the history and prehistory of this country. The whole experience of our first day on site was full on and a great hands on experience.

Hope you “digged” this blog post, stay tuned for more to come!

Patricia and Josh :)

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Field school begins!

Hello world,

We are once again out on Ahuahu Great Mercury Island for more exciting discoveries. Stay tuned for blogs and vlogs from staff and students over the next three weeks.


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Research aims for the season

Sometimes when we work on the island in November we examine possible locations for the February field school, but this year we already have a location in mind (stay tuned in February for more on that, or look at vlogs/blogs from earlier this year). Instead we returned to the site of Te Mataku for the fourth time in the hopes of figuring out the stratigraphic sequence of features. This time we wanted to open a wider area to understand how the different features fit together with the ultimate aim of understanding how the site was used. We spent a lot of time going back over out previous notes, section drawings, and the spatial data in GIS to help us stratigise the placement of the trench.

Previous excavations revealed a number of large ovens with thousands of broken and complete heat retainer stones, probably for cooking and lots of animal bone. At the end of the season in June we found a row of post holes, but no clear indication of what they might relate to. This week we wanted to figure out their function and how they relate to the fire features found previously.

Post holes mid-excavation

Post holes mid-excavation







Crossection of heat retainer oven

Crossection of heat retainer oven

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Back at Te Mataku!

Hello world!

We are back for one week at Te Mataku in Coralie Bay. We have worked at this site before, but there is still lots to do! Our June discoveries were featured in Archaeology Magazine, so we are continuing excavations to see if we can recover more material remains (including moa and dog) and understand the post hole features we uncovered at the end of the season. Today we uncovered the June excavation area by removing the sand backfill. We had to move a lot of sand before we could get one with excavation.

Stay tuned for more updates this week!

– Rebecca

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Hayley’s Vlog

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Sam’s Vlog

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Vlog day 1

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Every Day I’m Shoveling

Trench tour

Trench tour

Here we are at day 12 already, some of us counting down the days we can sleep in our own beds or shower multiple times a day, some of us yearning for a longer stay, but everyone in a relaxed, good mood after 10 days of hard work , new things and of course, Nick’s culinary skills matched with Simon’s desserts. Every day is a new one where the possibilities are endless due to the mass of new artefacts, bone and useless rocks being excavated. After snoozing the never-ending beeping nightmare of a watch waking me up at 6am religiously every morning, I roll (not too far as I’m on the top bunk) out of bed and to the kitchen for that coffee which turns me into a semi-functioning person. Students are of course, at their full potential after a good wholesome breakfast and a hot beverage. Already the theme song of “every day I’m shovelling” is in my head. The day from here lurches into GO mode which doesn’t stop until the last dish after desert has been put away and the tables wiped. Sunblock, lip balm, socks, shoes, raincoat, rain pants, more sunblock, plasters, hat, sunglasses and of course water bottle and backpack and off we go across to Coralie bay. After a short trench tour of seeing the ever-growing progress from the last day’s work, we settle into our respective trench areas and get down and dirty (literally). The trench tour has been an awesome – and for some, very scary- way of delighting (and horrifying) the lecturers and staff with our stuttering grammar and yearn to describe correctly what is really taking shape through our days of excavation. Cuts, deposits, layers, features, artefacts – slowly we are accustomed to the vocab and lingo we need to start breathing. And we have. And so we trowel, trowel, trowel and shovel, shovel, shovel and sift, sift, sift and label, label, label and then –its morning tea time- lunchtime- afternoon-tea time.



The day goes zoom! So fast. KABAMMM!! The joys of an annoying but nonetheless exfoliating sand storm thanks to the gusting winds means that we keep our backs to the weather and our eyes sometimes shut. In the main EA64 where I am working, (in one of the extension pits to the main area) today is about excavating through the layers and deposits and potential features in order to see if anything else arises. Let me tell you it is a trooper job trying to excavate when the wind is trying its hardest to fill your trench back in with sand. The finds over the week have been phenomenal, one of the more exciting excavations on the island (from what I’ve gathered from the regular excavators on GMI). Back in my trench however, many shiny obsidian pieces are admired and fewer fire-cracked rocks than before (thank goodness), with the hopes of a faunal assemblage or two to appear in the next scrape of the trowel. We fill out the necessarily paperwork for our fire scoop feature and then back to the scrape, scrape, shovel, shovel until the metallic clang of trowel meets artefact. Meanwhile in the trench over the way, EA66, fellow excavators Mana and Sarah are working their way through artefact mayhem – artefact literally every centimetre in a large clump, a hangi feature which they are patiently labelling and classifying. An exciting new game arises across the trenches – “Would You Rather” as we shovel and scrape and excavate into the afternoon. Soon enough it is the mad rush to leave everything to a good place until tomorrow and then the post- excavation work begins. People think studying archaeology must be this glamourous digging around and finding artefacts and exciting things but it is that and so much more. Cooking dinner, cleaning the toilets, labelling continuous pieces of paper with number sequences, drawing diagrams, flatting with 20 something people for days at a time, physical strength, and mental strength are a few others to mention. A little endurance is required at continuing in your trench when other people are coming across amazing bone fragments and faunal assemblages while you stare at your rock wondering if it is even fire-cracked. However – tomorrow is a new day and the opportunity to be surrounded by a real field project is amazing. Field school is an overwhelming experience with a glance into the chaotic yet rewarding all-round experience to the life of archaeology. Thoroughly enjoying the long hard days and the challenge it is presenting to practically learn every day and not just through the words in a textbook – to think on my feet and get stuck in. With only 2 more days of excavation to go – let the exploration and adventure continue!

Ciao for now,

Courtz (Courtney)


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Great Mercury Island day 9 of excavation

The day began with 2 sad (but hearty) jam sandwiches, a strong coffee and a banana, a meal fit for a hard day’s work of excavation. My shoes had dried out after falling into the ocean the day before, I was beginning to communicate with the local sheep and the weather was perfect, with slightly overcast skies and a gentle breeze which took the edge off the heat of the day. Today I was working alongside Kelly in EA 65 continuing our search for a terrace in the Western extension; and I intended to follow Simon’s clear instructions thoroughly to “dig until [we] hit the ‘hard clay-like orangey layer’ (translated from his archaeological lingo). Precise instructions indeed, but we knew what he meant! Strangely this seemingly simple task seemed to take quite a while longer than we had originally hoped, and the ‘hole’ which Kelly seemed to be digging into the side of our trench turned out a significantly large obsidian core and a potential drainage system! Time well spent! Nevertheless, when this job was complete, Tim moved in with his Lidar scanner (a device which looks like a weapon for world domination) and produced a pretty impressive digital image of our trench made up of millions and billions of tiny points shot into his computer using a laser. Simon then decided to move me into the Northern extension of EA 65, where we hoped to gain a better understanding of what was going on with the fire features and hangi pits found in the main trench. So together we spent the latter part of the morning cutting through the turf layer, turning out a decent amount of obsidian flakes and fire cracked rock (luckily no sheep poo this time)! I was hoping that we might find Atlantis, but sadly this was not to be. At dinner time I was informed that great progress had been made in the larger trench (EA 64) and that whilst we were finding only small amounts of artefacts, they were uncovering large chunks of obsidian, bones, and all sorts of exciting things (Lucky duckies!) and Sarah says that in EA 66 “there were so many artefacts that we could barely go down any layers!”.  But the find of the day award went to Matt (our British friend who has just joined our excavation) with his find of a fully formed and polished adze after only an hour of scrambling around in the dirt- a very impressive feat indeed and one which will leave me crying with jealousy all night long (good job I brought my teddy with me). Due to the success of the day, with only a small rain shower dampening our spirits (lame pun) there was a tremendous amount of artefact registration to be done in the evening, so me and some buddies decided to help out! The rest of the night was spent with good company, relaxing, tending to battle wounds and filling our faces which some well-deserved food. Tomorrow we look forward to much of the same (minus the rain shower), and hopefully this time I will beat Matt with the ‘artefact of the day’ award. But for now, I shall retire to bed with a good book, some chur music and my teddy bear Victor.

Richard xo

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