Accidental Discovery Protocols: Preserving Our Heritage During Winter Planting Season 

As the winter planting season begins, many of us in the Hibiscus and Bays community are preparing to dig into new areas to restore our natural habitats. This season is particularly significant as it offers an opportunity to uncover the land’s hidden stories and preserve the heritage of our ancestors. When we engage in activities such as planting, we may come across culturally significant archaeological sites, including midden sites, kōiwi (bones), and other historic artifacts, all known as taonga (treasures). To ensure that these taonga are protected, it’s essential to follow the Accidental Discovery Protocols outlined in the Auckland Unitary Plan. 

Accidental Discovery Protocols are guidelines to follow if you unexpectedly encounter any culturally significant archaeological items while digging or planting. These items may include: 

  • Midden Sites: Old refuse heaps (such as shells) that provide insight into the diet and lifestyle of early Māori communities. Features such as pits, midden or terraces are afforded the same legal protection as other archaeological materials or taonga. 
  • Kōiwi: Human remains or animal bones that could be of historical significance. 
  • Taonga: Artifacts such as implements, weapons or decorations traditionally and historically used by tangata whenua and includes parts or the remains thereof. 

Steps to Follow When an Artifact is Found 

  1. Stop Work Immediately: If you find any suspected artifacts, halt all activities in the area to prevent further disturbance. It is important that any remains, or artifacts are left undisturbed or in situ once discovered. 
  1. Protect the Site: Secure the area to protect it from damage. This can be done by marking off the area with tape or barriers. Ensure that eating, drinking, and smoking in the immediate vicinity is prohibited. 
  1. Notify Authorities: Contact the Auckland Council Cultural Heritage Department on 093010101 or . They will provide guidance on the next steps and contact the appropriate Iwi. In the case of kōiwi, site access should be restricted to other parties until the Police are satisfied the remains are not of forensic relevance. 
  1. Documentation: Please note it is not appropriate to take photos of Māori taonga be it kōiwi tangata (human remains) or any other findings. Kōiwi are considered extremely tapu (sacred)  and should be treated with the utmost respect. Photographing taonga is deeply disrespectful and offensive to Māori. 
  1. Commencing work:  It is generally acceptable to continue planting in other areas of the site that are not affected by the discovery. Activity on the site will remain on hold until the Police (in the case of kōiwi), the kaumatua and New Zealand Historic Places Trust have given approval for activity to recommence. 

We extend our heartfelt thanks to the Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust for their ongoing support and guidance in preserving our shared heritage. Ngāti Manuhiri Settlement Trust play a crucial role in assessing and managing the cultural significance of taonga found in our local board rohe (area), ensuring that they are treated with the utmost respect. 

As we embark on this winter planting season, let’s keep our eyes open not just for the new life we are planting, but also for the stories hidden within the whenua (land). By working together and following the proper protocols, we can protect and celebrate our rich heritage.