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The most common archaeological site type in New Zealand is middens. These are the refuse of food preparation, whether for eating on the spot or preservation for later consumption. For pre-European Maori sites these are most visible as shell middens, usually in coastal environments. These often include fish bone and occasionally bird bone. Early period middens may also contain bone of extinct moa and other birds. For the historic period rubbish pits with cattle, sheep and pig bone are more common. Other items also turn up in middens, such as fishhooks, stone flakes, glass or broken crockery. Recently developed scientific techniques allow us to examine soils for microscopic evidence of plant remains.

Identifying shell and bone to species is a specialist task. The data can then be used to understand not only what people were eating, but also the season of the year in which they were in occupation, the methods they used to capture and prepare their food and their dependence on the local environment. Understanding these subsistence patterns is a basic task of archaeology.

CFG Heritage personnel include faunal analysis specialists with a wide range of experience, from historic period farm animals to New Zealand and Pacific fish bone and shell. We work closely with Microfossil Research Ltd on pollen and starch grain analysis of soils.

Shell in the exposed section of midden showing very small cockle from a pit at Rowesdale site.