Topic: Track work uncovers signs of 1860s life

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Excavation of archaeological sites uncovered during construction of the new athletics track at Tauranga Domain have provided a rare glimpse of an 1860s military campsite and life for pre-European Maori. This article by Michele McPherson appeared in the Bay of Plenty Times on 18 December 2007, and is reproduced here with their permission.

Bay of Plenty archaeologist Ken Phillips said the most significant discovery in terms of Tauranga's history was the compacted floor of a military bell tent - accommodation used by foot soldiers camped on the site during the 1860s.

"This is where the soldiers who fought in Gate Pa slept, or at least a few of them," said Mr Phillips. He has led a team of four archaeologists, iwi members and Millennium Trust volunteers (the funding body behind the athletics track) to carry out the five-day excavation.

"We know so little about these campsites. We know what a redoubt looks like - we know we're going to find beer bottles in it," said Mr Phillips.

Nearby are steps leading down to what appears to be a military storehouse, used for storing food or ammunition.

Among the artefacts unearthed was a military button belonging to a member of the 14th Regiment, described by Mr Phillips as a small contingent that were involved in the Battle of Gate Pa.

"One button doesn't necessarily indicate that this was a tent occupied by the 14th Regiment, but it's a start," he said.

Also hidden beneath the surface were bullets of varying calibre and ink pots, used by soldiers to write letters home. A rubbish pit also revealed discarded clay pipes, painted crockery and soda, alcohol and salad oil bottles:

"Things used to disguise the rotten meat that you're eating every day," said Mr Phillips. Remnants of beef bones from "really coarse cuts of meat that you wouldn't look at today" were also found.

At the southern end of the athletics track were pre-European Maori archaeological sites, including a large kumara pit.

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