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Revealing mysteries of ancient road

Thursday June 14, 2018 Written by Published in Environment
Interested visitors to the site on Wednesday morning were Kamoe Mataiapo Ian Karika and Apai Mataiapo Tutara Framhein. They are pictured with (from left) Professors Jaqui Mulville, Jane Downes and Colin Richards. Absent is Professor Kate Welham. 18061308 Interested visitors to the site on Wednesday morning were Kamoe Mataiapo Ian Karika and Apai Mataiapo Tutara Framhein. They are pictured with (from left) Professors Jaqui Mulville, Jane Downes and Colin Richards. Absent is Professor Kate Welham. 18061308

Archaeologists working on a study of the centuries-old Ara Nui o Toi or Ara Metua (known to locals as “the back road”) have received funding to continue the project for another three years.

Professor Colin Richards from the University of Highlands and Islands in Scotland says the funding is great news for the project, part of an overall study of traditional monuments around the Pacific region.

A team of four archaeologists from the University of Highlands and Islands and Bournemouth University in England have spent the last week painstakingly revealing a section of Ara Metua close to Arai Te Tonga marae.

Professor Richards says the excavation has turned up some surprises, as the ancient roadway was thought to have been lined with long slabs of coral, when in fact the central section that has been excavated is made up of smaller pieces of coral resembling cobbles.

There are questions, too, as to whether the entire road was lined with coral, or just those sections outside marae and other places of significance. Slabs of rock still visible in the ground a short distance from the excavation lend credibility to the idea that parts of it were paved with basalt.

Two of the archaeologists will continue work on the excavation next week, and Professor Richards says another team will return to start a new phase of the project next year, possibly in July.

While as expected the excavation has not turned up any artefacts, it is providing fascinating evidence of the immense amount work that went into designing, paving and kerbing the Ara Metua.

The first phase of fieldwork on Rarotonga, focusing on evalation of the Ara Metua and associated sites and monuments, and the potential for further archaeological work began last year.

A report detailing the results of the survey and assessment of ancient roadway says while stone seats and kerbing listed by a Canterbury Museum archaeological team as recently as the late 1960s have been destroyed, the road itself is potentially preserved beneath the metal road.

“Two stretches of the surviving Ara Metua were recorded, one at Arai te Tonga and the other in the south of the island at Maii,” the report said.

“Therefore, it is likely that further examples survive in small sections where the modern inner-road deviates from the original course of the Ara Metua.” The report, written by some members of this year’s visiting team, said the Ara Nui o Toi was likely to have been an existing road or track that through time became embellished and re-surfaced.

“Hence, the Ara Metua may have a substantial time depth that only excavation and the recovery of dating samples can resolve.”

Meanwhile, Professor Richards is appealing to anyone in the community with old photos of Te Ara Metua to get in contact with team members as they are keen to find out as much as possible about how the few portions of the road that remained looked in the earlier years of last century before they were destroyed.

Visitors are welcome at the excavation site at Arai Te Tonga Marae in O’oa – you can access it off the main road opposite the Triad petrol station.

Richards says there has been some interest from local people in the work the archaeologists are doing and while CINews was at the site, Apai Mataiapo Tautara Framhein turned up, accompanied by Kamoe Matiapo Ian Karika.

Framhein was keen to show Professor Downes remnants of the marae hidden by undergrowth.

While the team had anticipated some interest from tourist, Richards said few had visited the site. The current excavation will be covered over before the team leaves.

He said the team had been working closely with Infrastructure Cook Islands and appreciated their help.

“We are very grateful; they have helped us a great deal. ICI and the landowners have been enthusiastic, and helpful.”