Archaeology is not just about artefacts buried in the ground, it refers to anything pre-1900, including buildings. Explore the sites in Christchurch where archaeological excavation and examination have taken place.

Moncks Cave

This cave, used by Archaic Māori, was undiscovered for 600 years.

Entrance to Moncks Cave in Redcliffs

Discovery of this significant site

The area of Raekura (Redcliffs) was a significant site of shelter and mahinga kai (food gathering) for many generations of Māori between the early fourteenth century and 1840. A network of waterways in the Te Ihutai (Avon-Heathcote Estuary) area provided communities with food sources such as shellfish, fish, plants and birds. Moncks Cave, a site of on and off habitation by Māori, was sealed by a landslide between 1400 and 1500BC. When it was uncovered by road workers in 1889, it provided a time capsule of the late Archaic period of Māori settlement and contained some of what is now regarded as the oldest and rarest taonga (treasure) in New Zealand. 


The first archaeological excavation was undertaken soon after the cave was discovered. Taonga unearthed included items of perishable materials such as fishing net fragments and hair that had survived in the sealed, dry cave. Also found was a canoe paddle, float and bailer, a rei kuri (wooden carving of a dog), paua bowls, bone bird-spear points, and fish hooks. The rei kuri is iconic as one of the few depictions of the ancient Māori dog and the style of carving is very different to any sculpture found in the North Island. 

Moa extinction questions answered

Moncks Cave is also notable for answering key questions about moa extinction. During an excavation in 1996, shell midden deposits were found and radio carbon dated to circa 1400, placing the contents found in the cave toward the end of the Archaic age. Conspicuous only by their absence were unworked moa bones that might be present if moa were being consumed at the site. With Moncks Cave in such close proximity to other locations in Redcliffs where moa was prepared, cooked and eaten, it has been suggested that moa extinction happened prior to the main period of habitation of Moncks Cave – in the first century of Māori occupation of Aotearoa.

The taonga found in Moncks Cave over the past century inform much of what we now know about the development of decorative Māori art, which along with the chronology of moa extinction makes it a highly significant archaeological site that reveals details about Māori life in one of the earliest periods of settlement. 

Moncks Cave since the Canterbury earthquakes

Since the Canterbury earthquakes, the cave has been inaccessible due to rock fall hazard. Recent landscaping has tidied the section so you can now view the cave entrance through a fence. You can also visit the Canterbury Museum(external link) to see many of the taonga unearthed at Moncks Cave in the Iwi Tawhito gallery.

Further information

Read about the significance of Moncks Cave in the Christchurch District Plan(external link)

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.

Moa Bone Point Cave

This famous cave has been investigated and excavated periodically since 1872.

Moa Bone Point Cave

Significant site

The area of Raekura (Redcliffs) was a significant site of shelter and mahinga kai (food gathering) for many generations of Māori. A network of waterways in the Te Ihutai (Avon-Heathcote Estuary) area provided communities with many sources of food such as shellfish, fish, plants and birds.

Moa Bone Point Cave/Te Ana o Hineraki was used by Māori from the early 14th century for about 700 years as a shelter, place of food preparation and a manufactory for tools. The site, along with nearby Moncks Cave and the wider Raekura area inform much of our knowledge about the Archaic or Moa Hunter period of Māori culture in Canterbury.

Te Ana o Hineraki is also significant as an early example of archaeological excavation in New Zealand.

Excavation of the cave

The original excavation in 1872 was overseen by Canterbury museum founder and director Julius Von Haast. In one of the earliest scientific and archaeological excavations in New Zealand, Haast employed two men to carry out a seven-week excavation.

Discoveries of many different taonga suggest the cave had multiple uses; moa eggshell, cooked moa bones and other marine and bird remains on the cave floor provide evidence that the cave was used to prepare, cook, and eat food.

The number of items relating to manufacture and textiles such as cutters, files, adzes, drills, needles, and threaders found within the cave suggest the inhabitants stayed in the area long enough to set up areas to prepare tools and crafts.

Fragments of bedding and mats have been found in the cave as well suggesting people probably sat in the cave and possibly even slept there. A number of other interesting artefacts were also found such as spear fragments, bone tools, fire sticks, fish hooks, a paua knife, pendants made from sperm whale teeth and nephrite, bone cloak pins, sandal and other textile fragments and even human hair trapped in the teeth of a wooden comb.

Habitation and use of the site

There is a theory that the different sites around Raekura were seasonally inhabited, this is evidenced by the similar timing of habitation at each location but the slightly differing artefacts and fauna remains. 

While it is widely accepted that the lack of moa bones in nearby Moncks Cave in comparison to the large amount found in Moa Bone Point Cave suggests that it was in use a century earlier, radiocarbon dates place occupation of the caves at a similar time.

It is most likely that Moncks Cave was inhabited slightly later than Moa Bone Point Cave and the fauna was going through a transitional change where previous food sources were slowly becoming extinct. 

There are also theories that the different sites around Raekura were seasonally inhabited which would account for the similar timing but different artefacts and fauna remains. 

Owing to the many formal and informal investigations of Moa Bone Point Cave, their varying quality and inconsistent recording methods, there are still many questions about the chronology of the use of the cave and wider area.

Moa Bone Point Cave since the Canterbury earthquakes

Due to rock fall hazard, the cave is currently inaccessible but you can visit Canterbury Museum(external link) to see many of the taonga unearthed at Moa Bone Point Cave in the Iwi Tawhito gallery.

Further information

Read about the significance of Moa Bone Point Cave in the Christchurch District Plan(external link).

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.

Grubb Cottage

A wonderful example of nineteenth century construction, Grubb Cottage is one of few surviving early colonial residences in Lyttelton after the Canterbury earthquakes devastated so many heritage buildings.

Grubb Cottage

Grubb Cottage is located on 62 London Street, Lyttelton and open on Saturday mornings from 10am to midday for self-guided tours.


Grubb Cottage was built in 1851 by Scottish shipwright, John Grubb, who travelled to Lyttelton to work on the construction of the town's first wharf. The cottage is significant as one of the oldest non-prefabricated buildings in Canterbury and as the first plot of land to be sold in New Zealand that hadn't been pre-purchased in England.

Before John's family joined him in New Zealand, he wrote and requested his wife Mary bring a number of his carpentry tools with her. Using these tools John was able to build a simple cottage during a time when most people were still living in huts and barracks.

The house remained in Grubb ownership until 1961, passing from John Grubb to his children and grandchildren. Between 1961 and 2006, the cottage changed hands numerous times before coming into City Council ownership.

The original cottage was east facing and built with two bedrooms upstairs in the high pitched roof and a kitchen and living area downstairs. Rimu and kahikatea weatherboards formed the cladding while the floor was made from kauri.

In the 1860s, additions were made to accommodate the growing Grubb family, these consisted of a verandah, three bedrooms upstairs and a bedroom and sitting room below. A final addition was made in the twentieth century.

The interior of the cottage contains many examples of early wall coverings such as newspaper, hessian scrim, silk ribbons, and early linoleum. The original light fittings and switches are also all in situ.

In 2010 work was undertaken to stabilise and conserve the cottage creating an opportunity for a small scale archaeological investigation. For the cottage to be stabilised, it needed to be repiled. Fifty-three pile holes were dug by hand under the house and a number of artefacts discovered as a result.

Alcohol bottles from pile hole cache

Alcohol bottles

Artefacts discovered

One pile hole was full of alcohol bottles (mostly beer and gin) and bottle manufacturing and maker's marks date the bottles to nineteenth century occupation. This tells us that the Grubbs did not subscribe to the growing temperance philosophy of their Presbyterian religion. Most bottles were fragmented but some complete and still full of their original substance. It is likely the bottles were deliberately buried, possibly by John Grubb to keep the alcohol cool and prevent spoiling. 

Other artefacts discovered in pile holes included an engraved writing slate, miniature tea set and a doll - all likely to have belonged to John Grubb's children.  

Pharmaceutical bottles

Pharmaceutical bottles

During the investigation, a filled gully was discovered underneath the nineteenth century extension. Under the fill, a number of waste disposal features were discovered which suggests the Grubb family used the gully to discard their rubbish.

The location of the gully supports idea that the main entrance to the cottage was on the eastern elevation and that rubbish would have been discarded from the kitchen doorway directly into the gully. It is unknown when exactly the gully was filled in but certainly prior to the 1860s addition to the cottage.

Lucozade bottle

Lucozade bottle

While excavating the area between the house and the west fence line, a small rubbish pit was found. This collection of artefacts contained complete ceramic vessels, women's stockings, pharmaceutical bottles and a bottle of Lucozade. The artefacts firmly date to the twentieth century and probably belonged to John Grubb's grandson John, and his wife Kate, who lived in the cottage between 1920 and 1961.

The number of pharmaceutical bottles (some still full) and lucozade suggest an occupant of the house was ill. However, as Lucozade was used medicinally for energy and the one legible pharmaceutical bottle is for Morse's Indian Root Pills – claimed to cure all kinds of illness – it is unclear the exact ailment they suffered from or why so many full bottles of medication were discarded.  

The archaeological investigation provided a fascinating look into nineteenth and twentieth century living.

Further information

Read more about Grubb Cottage and its significance in the Christchurch District Plan(external link).

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.

Stoddart Cottage

Stoddart Cottage, a listed Historic Place Category 1 building and archaeological site of significance, is located in Diamond Harbour.

Side view of Stoddart Cottage

Located off Waipapa Avenue in Diamond Harbour, Stoddart Cottage is open on weekends from 10am to 4pm.


Stoddart Cottage was built by the Scottish-born Mark Stoddart who purchased a number of rural sections in what is now known as Diamond Harbour during the 1850s. By the 1860s Diamond Harbour was described as a "beauty spot" with its "neat cottage, pretty garden and green fields about it." The cottage was expanded in 1862, likely in preparation for Stoddart's impending nuptials. Building materials were shipped from Australia to Lyttelton followed by doors, sashes, glasses and furniture and the new couple settled into the improved cottage.

In 1866, the house was advertised for lease while the Stoddart's travelled to London with two children. The number of rooms described suggests that the west wing extension had been added by this time as it contained "Sitting room, five Bed-rooms, Servants room, Kitchen, and Offices".

The Stoddarts' returned in 1867 and in 1873, Mark Stoddart subdivided his land and sold 500 acres to Harvey Hawkins who went on to build what would be known as Godley House. 

British Empire penny

British Empire penny

Earthquake repairs

After suffering earthquake damage, earthworks were needed to stabilise Stoddart Cottage and archaeologists were brought on site to monitor repairs. After an inspection of the building in 2016, it was found that the two roomed rear section of the building was the earliest construction as the northern internal wall was filled with insulating dirt indicating it began as an external wall.

When the rotting floorboards were removed, it was also discovered that there was no piling and the cottage stood on compacted earth suggesting it would have originally had a dirt floor. Works undertaken were the repairing of two chimneys and fireplaces as well as drainage earthworks. 

Slate pencil and shell button

Slate pencil and shell button

Excavation and artefacts

The first excavation was of a double fireplace that was built between 1862 and 1866. All stone cladding and the brick base were removed and several black beer bottle fragments were discovered immediately. More glass was found in the underfloor space, as well as four coins that had probably slipped between the gaps in the timber floor.

One black beer bottle appeared to have been deliberately lodged under the foundations, possibly by the builders for superstitious reasons. In total, 84 artefacts were recovered from this feature, sheep bones with marks consistent with butchery cuts, many fragments of alcohol bottles such as black beer and cognac and condiment bottles such as a salad oil bottle and pickle jar.

Of the coins discovered, one was from the nineteenth century, a British Empire penny minted in 1863. A slate pencil showing use at one end was also discovered along with a button made of shell.

John Stewart and Co. whiskey bottles from Kirkliston Distillery in Scotland

John Stewart and Co. whisky bottles

The second fireplace investigation also uncovered interesting artefacts. A ceramic fragment of a large blacking bottle was found, blacking being used for a number of things including the treatment of leather.

Again, alcohol bottles were prominent and as well as many black beer bottles, two whisky bottles were found that had come from John Stewart and Co, whisky distillers from Kirkliston distillery in Scotland between 1855 and 1877. 

A drainage trench was hand excavated and many artefacts were found scattered along the length. During this work, a number of timber weatherboards on the walls of the house were exposed and found to be rotting. When these were removed, the space under the house became accessible and more artefacts were recovered.

Many of the artefacts beneath a section of cottage built between 1862 and 1866 could be seen but not accessed and were left in situ. Recovered artefacts included a number of ceramics such as side plates, platters, a bowl and an egg cup. The egg cup was decorated with a transfer printed pattern featuring swallows, possibly in the style of the Japanese aesthetic that was so popular in England during the 1870s and 1880s when Japan opened up trade to the west.

Egg cup fragment with transfer printed swallow pattern

Egg cup fragment 

The actual drainage trench contained a number of ceramic and glass artefacts as well such as teacups, a chamber pot, jar, porcelain candle holder and a Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce bottle. These bottles are commonly recovered from nineteenth century New Zealand sites as they were imported to New Zealand from 1852 onwards. 

A large number of artefacts were discovered during the repair work on Stoddart Cottage despite the small area investigated and the cottage has now been recorded as an archaeological site.

Further information

Read more about Stoddart Cottage and its significance in the Christchurch District Plan(external link) or about its listing as a Historic Place Category 1 building with Heritage New Zealand(external link).

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.

Godley House

Godley House, Diamond Harbour’s iconic heritage building and destination was badly damaged by the Canterbury earthquakes and has since been demolished.

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.

Magnetic Observatory

The workshop is the last remaining building of the Magnetic Observatory complex, which was used by Antarctic explorers and visiting scientists.

Read more about the Magnetic Observatory

Find this and other heritage points of interest on our heritage map.