Kaikōura Earthquake Archaeologists

This is cheating a little as I am going to talk about work we have been doing along the Kaikōura Coast since February, but it is still very much underway today on July 28th!

On 14 November 2016 an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 occurred on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. This and the aftershocks following caused significant damage to land, coastal areas, buildings and infrastructure along the coast and in the top half of the South Island. In some areas there was uplift of around 4m! Massive slips blocked coastal and inland roads and rail cutting the town of Kaikōura off from the rest of the country by land for more than two weeks.

Slip 6 at Ohau Point


Slip 8

The government formed an alliance, the North Canterbury Transport Infrastructure Recovery (NCTIR), with a large multidisciplinary team including designers, a whole range of engineers, contractors, ecologists, landscape architects, planners, abseilers, helicopter pilots, a large comms team, as well as us archaeologists, dedicated to clearing and reinstating the road and rail. It’s one of New Zealand’s biggest infrastructure projects to date! The NCTIR team have been working tirelessly for months sluicing, scaling and stabilising the slips, building seawalls and realigning the road and rail, repairing and replacing bridges and the series of tunnels located along the coast. Despite the massive task, not at all helped by wet weather and snow, NCTIR has made massive progress with the rail set to open officially very soon!

Archaeologically the Kaikōura Coast is highly significant with (currently) 195 recorded archaeological sites including middens, ovens, pits and terraces, burials, Pa (Maōri fortifications), gardening/horticulture sites, caves and rock shelters, whaling stations and a canal found throughout the area of works. The NCTIR archaeologists have been working together with the wider team and cultural monitors to make sure that any works that may impact archaeology is monitored and any archaeology uncovered is investigated and recorded. It’s been (like the rest of the project) a massive and challenging job with archaeological sites geographically spread apart and difficult to access, helicopters the only way to get to some sites or, for one of our intrepid team, abseiling!

Abseilers at Slip 2


Jean in a services trench at Rakautara


Leah and Cathleen test trenching at the Pines


Busy archaeologists up at the Pines


Jeremy and James with the helicopter puppy


Excavating a burnt feature at the top of Slip 8


Jean, Emily and Leah up at the Pines


NCTIR archaeology mascot Hunter curling up after a long day

As you can see we have uncovered a fair bit of archaeology and as earthworks continue we will be on the job. The NCTIR project is a unique opportunity for us to look at archaeology on such a large scale across so many types of sites, and is sure to generate some excellent archaeological insights into settlement in this part of New Zealand!