This famous cave has been investigated and excavated periodically since 1872.
The area of Raekura (Redcliffs) was a significant site of shelter and mahinga kai (food gathering) for many generations of Maori. 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 Maori 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 Maori culture in Canterbury. Te Ana o Hineraki is also significant as an early example of archaeological excavation in New Zealand.
The original excavation in 1872 was overseen by Canterbury museum founder and director Julius Von Haast. 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.
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.
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.
Read about the significance of Moa Bone Point Cave in the Christchurch District Plan(external link).