Archaeological investigations of the peninsula show that Māori first inhabited Tiwai Point from around 1300, with peak occupation from 1400 to the mid 1600s. It is estimated that occupation ceased in the mid 1700s. Pre-colonisation, Māori occupation of Tiwai Point lasted approximately 450 years in total.
Tiwai Point was utilised by Māori as a prime location for the production of stone tools. Southland argillite was used to manufacture a variety of adzes, which were highly prized and widely dispersed as tools of choice for Māori of southern Aotearoa. Adzes made from Southland argillite were used for moa hunting, sealing, the hunting of smaller birds, and fishing.
Key archaeological work relating to the removal of artefacts was undertaken during 1968 and 1969. There was a sense of urgency to remove artefacts and to learn as much as possible about the site before construction of the Tiwai Aluminium Smelter began. The smelter opened in 1971.
Timeline of key events post public announcement of the planned smelter:
1961 – first public knowledge that Colmalco planned to build an aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point. At this time the Tiwai Peninsula was surveyed by archaeologists for sites of significant cultural interest. Unfortunately their lack of findings led them to conclude that the peninsula had been an ‘occupation site’ but that any artefacts had been washed away by the sea.
May 1968 – Staff from the Southland Museum discovered an early Māori ‘workshop’ at Tiwai Point
August 1968 – second major excavation of Tiwai – salvage operation
November 1968 – further salvage work
1969 – ongoing excavation work and ecological studies
Report context and disclaimer
It was announced on 14 January 2021 that the Tiwai Smelter will close in 2024. The smelter is sited on one of Aotearoa’s most important archaeological sites in terms of understanding early Māori culture. This report is a draft collation of documented evidence of the cultural and archaeological importance of Tiwai Point. It is intended to be a ‘living’ document that will be updated as more documentation and evidence becomes available to the authors.
Download the report
Cultural Report - Tiwai Point - January 2021 (PDF, 8.60 MB)
(without appendices - download individually below)
- Appendix A: Southland Museum Annual Report 1967-68 (PDF, 5.15 MB)
- Appendix B: 1969 – Tiwai Point Maori Site by A. J. Mackenzie (PDF, 5.18 MB)
- Appendix C: 1969 – Archeaology at Tiwai Point: A preliminary report to the Southland Museum Trust Board (Inc) by G. S. Park (PDF, 7.27 MB)
- Appendix D: Southland Museum and Art Gallery holdings re Tiwai (PDF, 5.50 MB)
- Appendix E: 1969 – Tiwai Point expedition by E. Freeborn (PDF, 5.67 MB)
- Appendix F: 1969 – Tiwai Point – A Preliminary Report by G. S. Park (PDF, 6.66 MB)
- Appendix G: 1969 – Ecological Method and Theory: Tiwai Peninsula by Gillian Hamel (PDF, 11.32 MB)
- Appendix H: 1978 – Radiocarbon dates from Tiwai Point, Southland by G.S. Park (PDF, 6.42 MB)
- Appendix I: Newspaper Clippings (PDF, 16.58 MB)
- Appendix J: New Zealand Archaeological Association site records for Tiwai Point (PDF, 20.14 MB)