In 1939 while fossicking on the family farm on the isolated and windswept boulder bank at Wairau Bar on the shores of Cloudy Bay in Marlborough a 13-year-old school boy Jim Eyles uncovered ancient burial sites that contained perforated moa eggs and East Polynesian styled ornaments and tools. This discovery was to lead to new understanding of the first human settlement of Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Roger Duff then Ethnologist at Canterbury Museum (and later Director) was the first to realise the significance of Jim Eyles' discovery. Between 1939 and 1964 researchers from Canterbury Museum under the guidance of Roger Duff carried out a series of formal excavations and recovered further artefacts, large quantities of discarded moa and other bird bones as well as glimpses of cooking ovens, dwellings, and evidence indicating the presence of a once large village on Wairau Bar.
In 1950 Roger Duff published his observations relating to the first settlement of Aotearoa/New Zealand in a comprehensive book The Moa Hunter Period of Maori Culture. Following this publication it was widely accepted that Wairau Bar occupied a key role in the process of the first settlement of Aotearoa/New Zealand and that it contained the richest and most diverse range of artefacts from what is now accepted as the colonisation phase of Aotearoa/New Zealand. A selection of the ornaments and tools from Wairau Bar are included within the Iwi Tawhito-Whenua Hou/Ancient People-New Land exhibition.
Field work at the Wairau Bar site recovered several hundred stone adze heads (toki) almost all of which appeared to have been manufactured from argillite obtained from quarries in Nelson and D’Urville Island by ancient craftsmen who were residents of the site. Researchers have demonstrated that Wairau Bar was a major adze manufacturing and trading centre for the first settlers of Aotearoa/New Zealand.