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Objects from Oruarangi

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Objects from Oruarangi

Objects from Oruarangi, a pa south of Thames, tell us about the activities of Māori who intermittently lived there over a period of hundreds of years. They form a large part of the Museum's Māori collection.

About Oruarangi

Oruarangi is a Māori pa on the banks of the Waihou River south of Thames. On the surface it does not look like a typical pa as there are no ditches or banks or high ground; the deep mud of the tidal river channels which surrounded the flat land provided protection without need for ditches.

The pa is traditionally important to Hauraki iwi, and different iwi over several hundred years have connection to the pa. Oruarangi was also briefly visited by Captain Cook, Joseph Banks, Tupaia and Daniel Solander on 20 November 1769 and the people living there traded with the visitors. It is believed the pa had been abandoned by the early 1830s.


In the 1930s curio-hunters from the Thames area dug on Oruarangi for the large number of artefacts to be found there. Over several decades the collection of each individual was donated to or purchased by Auckland Museum, and the objects now form a major component of the Māori collection.

The fossicking was carried out without concern for the information to be gained from where in the pa the object was found, or what was nearby. This type of information helps to interpret the use of some of the items, especially those not commonly known or not previously encountered, but the curio-hunters were not archaeologists and were only interested in how many artefacts they could find.

Objects reveal activities

This lintel, carved from kauri, shows a remarkable composition resemblance to other Hauraki carvings.

This lintel, carved from kauri, shows a remarkable composition resemblance to other Hauraki carvings.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 33309 ID61516.

In the collection from the pa there is a wide range of tools made of stone, bone and shell. Some of the tools were used to make other tools, or possibly clothing. Pendants, toggles, hair combs and tattoo chisels indicate ornamentation was important for decoration and communication of rank and genealogy.

Bird spears, fish hooks, sinkers and fern root beaters give clues as to what food was eaten. Adzes and chisels in different stone materials show wood working and tool making was important.

Musical instruments and other items show a different type of activity and that life in the pa was not all about obtaining and preparing food. Patu muka, or flax beaters, are numerous and were used to beat the flax fibre to make soft and silky muka for weaving. Weapons, intact and broken, tell of a more dangerous side of life.

European introduced materials such as glass, a ceramic fragment made into a pendant, a marble and buttons show how new materials were incorporated in the decades after European arrival.

Wooden items are not well represented because the wood decayed in the ground, or disintegrated when it was dried out. Fortunately one piece which has survived is a carved wooden lintel, to sit over the doorway to a kumara storage pit, and is one of the few known pieces of Hauraki carving style.

Fragments provide clues to how objects were made

Flute. Nguru. Two fingerholes on the upper surface.

Flute. Nguru. Two fingerholes on the upper surface.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

Not all the objects from Oruarangi in the Auckland Museum collection are intact. This is typical of what is present on an occupation site as items are discarded when broken or finished with.

Usually the intact and still usable tools were carefully looked after and carried to new places when settlements were moved. Fragments might have been thrown away by their owners but they can also provide information. For instance, the process of making a nguru (wind instrument) can be worked out from looking at the fragments which broke during manufacture.

Some styles indicate time periods

The style of some tool types and pendants changed over time. The two stone reels made of serpentine, and several of the adze shapes, are more commonly found in settlements dating pre-1500 AD. This indicates that Oruarangi must have been lived on intermittently over hundreds of years. One of the reels has been altered later by the addition of paua shell insets as its new owner sought to personalise it.

Adze made from Tahanga basalt

Adze with a rectangular cross section made from Tahanga basalt at Opito. This adze is unfinished as the blade has not been ground to a smooth surface and sharp edge.

Oruarangi-point fish hook

One style of fish hook point is so numerous in the collection that when it is found elsewhere it is now referred as an 'Oruarangi point'.

Further reading

Furey, Louise. 1996. 'Oruarangi: the archaeology and material culture of a Hauraki Pa'. Bulletin of the Auckland Museum no. 17.

Cite this article

Furey, Louise. Objects from Oruarangi. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 5 June 2015. Updated: 12 May 2016.

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