Great Mercury lies about 8 km off the coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Imagine the gently sloping, sandy beach of Coralie Bay at the beginning of Māori settlement. This perfect landing point, sheltered from the prevailing westerlies, was a busy transport hub. Criss-crossed by waka, the bay saw people arrive and leave, carrying their possessions.
Moa were probably ferried in by waka. Their bones sometimes emerge from the dig – but with all the rich seafood available, we infer that they weren’t part of the islanders’ everyday diet.
The many stone artefacts are also highly illuminating. For instance, all the major obsidian sources in the North Island are represented in the recovered implements. We’ve determined this by measuring the relative proportions of the trace elements they contain. We also have artefacts crafted from stone that probably originated in the Nelson argillite belt. Clearly, the first people of the island were intent on moving about, exploring this fantastic new land.
Archaeology is less about the objects themselves, and more about the interrelationships among them. Onsite we record each object’s location in 3-dimensions, using laser technology. Back in the lab, these data feed into a computer model of the excavation. From patterns in the way the artefacts were abandoned, we can peer back in time and make fascinating inferences about people’s lives.