Wellington, May 27 : An archaeologist has uncovered a "time capsule" of the lives of the Maori people on the Tawhiti Rahi island near to New Zealand, which dates back to 1823, the year when the island's inhabitants were massacred.
According to a report in the New Zealand Herald, on December 16, 1823, a raiding party from Northland's Hikutu hapu landed at the Tawhiti Rahi island's only safe landing spot - choosing a time when the island's Ngatiwai iwi chief and men were off on their own raid.
What followed next was a brutal massacre of the island's Maori people, after which, no one ever set foot on the island again.
Lying about 24 km off the east coast of Northland and protected by 100m sheer cliffs, the island is now home to tuataras and more than 700,000 birds and is surrounded by a world-famous marine reserve.
Now, Otago University archaeologist James Robinson and his team spent 12 weeks over the past three years on the island, combing its landscape, to uncover an untouched "time capsule" of Maori life almost 200 years ago.
The limited research done to date concluded that the island was subservient to neighbouring Aorangi, but according to Robinson, it was now almost certain Tawhiti Rahi was the Poor Knights' main population base.
Despite the existence of whalers during the latter part of the island's occupation, Robinson and his team found no glass, ceramic or metal artefacts - indicating the island's community led a very traditional life, largely free of Pakeha involvement.
Tawhiti Rahi provided abundant amounts of muttonbird, had ample fresh water and significant fish numbers, with the East Auckland current that sweeps past the island providing an extremely high fish mass.
Through using the slash-and-burn gardening method common on the mainland, combined with stone walls, stone mounds and terraces, Tawhiti Rahi was a productive garden site.
"They had basically turned 95 per cent of appropriate garden areas into a garden," said Robinson. "The island is covered with archaeological features. There's very few areas that don't have something," he added.