The Otago University magazine and the National Radio of New Zealand have both had interesting (and similar) articles/interviews about what is considered to be the first settlement of Aotearoa (not that Maori knew it by this name either – the country didn’t seem to have a name till white settlement).
The site was first discovered by a schoolboy, Jim Eyles in 1939 and he and archaeologists from Canterbury University dug up skeletons and artefacts to the dismay of local Maori. And in recent years Maori have wanted the bodies repatriated to their ancestral land and a deal was done: the bones (of 63 people) would go back but first the archaeologists would analyse then and examine the burial ground. When I heard the interview on the radio the archaeologist talking was very insistent that Maori were not just being consulted in the usual way but were strongly involved in the decision-making about the research.
The area, Wairau Bar, was at the top of the South Island in a rather barren place, but it would have been warmer then and was at the southern limits of kumara growing climate, and at the northern limits for the best moa hunting, and it was rich in marine resources and fertile land.
Seven people buried close together have been shown by dental analysis to have grown up elsewhere – their teeth showed evidence of a sugary, possibly root-based diet, typical of eastern Polynesia. Two of them have DNA markers unique to Maori, one shows signs of diabetes, and others have Pacific Island markers. They didn’t have recent common ancestry which is interesting. There is hope they may be able to find other peoples showing similar genetic profiles which might help identify where they came from. “Indeed, it raises the possibility of one day knowing the location of the Māori ancestral motherland, Hawaiiki.”
The village was lived in for about 100 years, maybe less, until the food supply dwindled. In that time though they used huge ovens around five metres in diameter and lined with boulders to stop the walls collapsing. There was plenty of evidence of ornamentation and artistic work.
‘“New Zealand was the most recently colonised land mass in the world,” says SPAR co-director Professor Richard Walter. “Wairau Bar is the most significant site of this colonisation phase and among the 100 most important sites in the world.”
And it suggests that the 70-year hiatus in analysing New Zealand’s earliest archaeological evidence may have been time well spent.
Rediscovering the Wairau Bar now has enabled more than the use of modern DNA, bioarchaeological and archaeological methods to tell a richer and truer story than would have been possible in the 1940s. It has enabled a coming of age for a partnership between researchers and the indigenous peoples whose histories are being scrutinised. In doing so, the understanding of the lives of Māori some 700 years ago has become rooted, very squarely, in both the science and sensibilities of the present.”
I think you should be able to hear an interview about this here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/20130312