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Published: 2002-09-04 00:00:00

A wooden fern root crushing tool found last week buried on a city subdivision site is now on its way to a future in a museum.

The tool – about a foot long – was spotted during work on the Magnolia Grove subdivision on the corner of Crosby Road and Gordonton Road and easily recognised as something more important than just a piece of wood. The tool, a patu raurere, was used to crush fern roots for medicinal purposes in pre-European times, probably up to 200 years ago. Iwi ethnological researcher Wiremu Puke said the area was known to have been used for growing ferns, which were considered a delicacy. They were either chewed or sucked to remove the nutrients or pounded into a gruel or paste and wrapped in rangiora leaves for cooking in a hangi.

He said the tool was likely to belong to Ngati Wairere.

The contractors, Goodwin McPherson, immediately notified Environment Waikato and local iwi, as required under their resource consent, and Mr Puke went straight to the site to examine the find. It will be sent to Internal Affairs to be registered and preserved by Auckland University before finding a permanent home in a museum.

The quick handling of the discovery showed that finding important artifacts on building and subdivision sites would not hold up work, he said. Some contractors were concerned when they uncovered items that work would be held up while the site was examined, but work was able to continue at the site quickly – with workers keeping their eyes peeled for more artifacts.

“We can also deal with the politics of a find while work continues.”

Mr Puke said if ancient tools and other items were found, contractors were required as part of the consent conditions to stop work and notify Environment Waikato and specific iwi groups. They should put the find in water or re-bury it to protect it from the air until it could be properly examined and identified.

“Wooden items and carvings are often well preserved in swamps and usually appear when swamps are drained, but once they are drained the cells collapse and they decay and crumble quite quickly.”

Environment Waikato was preparing instructions for contractors on what to do if they found old tools, artifacts or remains on sites.