Tāhunanui - the kāinga
Tāhunanui sounds like a name from pre-European times but it was only approved in 1911. Until the twentieth century the area was known as The Sands or Tāhuna; its traditional Māori name remains unknown. In 1904 a competition was held to name the growing suburb; Tāhuna was the most popular option but rejected because there was a Tāhuna Post Office in the North Island.
Tātahi (meaning the beach) was chosen instead but the name did not take. At the beginning of 1911 a deputation of residents asked the Chief Postmaster, Nelson, to change the name. From 1 February 1911 the Post Office became Tāhunanui.
A Very Early Settlement
Māori had a kāinga (village) at Tāhuna from the earliest days of human settlement in Aotearoa. Charcoal from a site against the hill on both sides of Bisley Avenue where it meets Tāhunanui Drive, then close to the sea’s edge, has been dated to c.1361AD. This era (c.1300 – 1500) is known as the Archaic or Moa-hunter period.
The site does not have later archaeological layers, as most sites do, indicating it was only occupied at that very early time.
Fourteenth Century Life
Although only bone and stone have survived the nearly 700 years it is possible to glean details of the ancestors’ daily life. Many argillite flakes, from Rangitoto (D'Urville Island) deposit initially, and then from the Whangamoa-Maitai lode, suggest an adze-making enterprise. Only a few finished adzes were found so the products were probably traded further afield; a 1.4kg piece of obsidian from Mayor Island in the Bay of Plenty may have been acquired this way. The most common artefacts at Tāhuna were more than 150 argillite drill-points used to make one-piece moa bone fish hooks. Moa bone fish hooks were found at the site as well as a number of Archaic lure shanks – a stone shank shaped like a small fish with an unbarbed bone point attached, used to troll kahawai and barracouta.
Only two pounamu artefacts were found – a small polished fragment and a “finely made well-polished chisel … a dual purpose tool, chisel-shaped on one end and gouge-shaped at the other”.
What was on the menu?
While all vegetable material has disappeared, the midden (food waste heap) shows a varied diet from a range of protein sources. There are fragments of the Northern Bush moa, along with remains of the Polynesian dog, southern fur seal, weka, kererū (native pigeon), parakeet, kaka, tui, mutton bird, petrel, penguin, duck, spotted shag and other sea birds. There are large quantities of snapper, kahawai and barracouta, and one remnant which may be from a whale.
For more information about Tāhunanui
The Nelson Provincial Museum has artefacts from the site of this settlement. Contact the Collections Manager Taonga Māori.
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Further sources - Tāhunanui - the kāinga
- Warren, K. (2009) Rolling Stones. Nelson, N.Z.: Nikau Press
- Millar, D. (1967) . The Archaic Site at Tahunanui. In Recent archaeological excavations in the Northern Part of the South Island. Nelson Historical Society Journal, 2(2), p.9