Looking down on Kaitorete Spit on Banks Peninsular from a plane, always sets me to thinking about the activity that took place there in ancient times. It’s a place that intrigues me because of its fascinating history and its associations with early Maori. And it was here, back in 2004, that one of the country’s most significant textile finds was unearthed – tiny fragments of a Maori cloak carbon dated at around 1500AD, making it two centuries older than any cloak ever before found in New Zealand.
The oldest known cloak prior to the Kaitorete Spit find was a 17th century example unearthed in a Fiordland cave. Kaitorete Spit is around 6000 years old and is known to be one of the most ecologically and culturally important sites in New Zealand.
Kaitorere Spit contains a remarkable collection of plants, several rare species of insects, reptiles and birds and it is of significant cultural value to Ngāi Tahu for the fact that over 500 archaelogical sites – many of them ancient ovens and tool-making areas – have been found there. Archaeologists have also unearthed the charred remains of a small shelter, stones tools, a flounder midden, evidence of cooking ovens, pieces of kokowai (red ochre) traditionally used by Maori for painting and decorating, a second cloak fragment, pieces of woven sleeping mat, albatross bones, tools, pieces of roof thatch, part of a woven belt and a 600mm long segment of carved wood. All have been removed from the site and restored within the controlled environment of Canterbury Museum. – Nā Adrienne Rewi