Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 7, 1874
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Conclusion.

Although when enumerating in the foregoing notes the results obtained during the pursuit of the excavations, I have given already my views, formed

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from a consideration of the sequence of the beds of human origin, their ago and peculiarities, I think it will be useful if I offer in conclusion a short résumé of the work performed, contemplated as a whole.

The excavations have shown, that a nearly level floor of marine sands existed, resting upon the rocky bottom of the cave, these sands being 4 1/2 feet above high-water mark at the entrance of the cave, and gradually rising to 8 feet near its termination.

There is no evidence from which it could be concluded when the big block at the entrance of the cave fell down from the roof to narrow the former so considerably, but I have no doubt that this took place before the sea had left the cave entirely, by being shut out by the boulder bank in front of the entrance, the crown of which rises 16 feet above high-water mark.

However, both the boulder bank and this rock at the entrance of the cave prevented the drift sands from entering and filling it, so that when the Moa-hunters landed with their canoes in some of the nooks of the rocky shore in the vicinity they found a capital shelter in the cave, whilst the Peninsula, then an island, and the opposite shores of the main island offered them a fine hunting ground.

It appears from the examination of the sea sands that the first visitors of the cave entered it only occasionally, and still more rarely used it as a cooking place. This might have taken place after the waves of the sea had been shut out from the cave by the formation of the boulder bank in front of it, probably assisted by a rise of the land, but it is possible that at exceptionally high tides the water still entered the cave, as some of the broken Moa bones, and of the boulders of which the cooking ovens in the south-western portion were formed, were embedded nearly twelve inches deep in the sands, unless we assume that they might have been brought into that position by the next inhabitants having walked over them, and thus having trodden them down.

The bed of ashes and dirt, which here and in a few other places underlies the agglomeratic bed, clearly proves that before the last-mentioned deposit was formed fires were lighted occasionally upon the sands.

The discovery of drift wood in the cave, often of considerable size, of several seal skeletons, and of a portion of a lower human jaw, is a proof that during the deposition of the sands it was easily accessible to the waves of the sea.

I have already observed that in the marine sands we came across blocks of rock of all sizes having fallen from the roof, and possessing a more or less rounded shape, such as is exhibited by scoria, formed in its upper and lower portions during the flow of a large lava stream.

When the waves of the sea finally retreated, a great number of these fragments fell for a considerable time from the roof, forming a nearly uniform layer

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of an average thickness of 6 inches above the marine sands, and being generally thicker where the cave is highest. This fall was, without doubt, caused by the interior of the cave gradually getting drier. During the whole time of the formation of this remarkable deposit, the cave appears to have been occasionally inhabited, as evinced by the great number of bones and of small quantities of charcoal and ashes enclosed in the bed under consideration.

Above this agglomerated bed another remarkable layer had been deposited, generally 3 or 4 inches in thickness, mostly consisting of refuse matter from human occupation, and of ashes, so that I adopted the name of dirt bed for the same. It was especially in some localities, as for instance near the entrance of the cave, replete with kitchen middens of the Moa-hunters. I wish, however, to point out that the fall of the rocks from the roof did not cease during its formation or even afterwards, as all the beds upwards, even those of European origin, have small lumps of such scoria, or even larger blocks, embedded in them.

I believe, therefore, that this dirt bed was forming during a more regular occupancy of the cave by the Moa-hunters; moreover, I think that the connection of the cooking places and kitchen middens of the Moa-hunters outside the cave, amongst the dunes, with the dirt bed, has been traced satisfactorily in the foregoing pages.

But now, as it were at once, the Moa-hunters disappear from the scene; but not without affording an insight into their daily life, by leaving us some of their polished and unpolished stone implements, a few of their smaller tools, made of bone, a few personal ornaments, as well as fragments of canoes, whares, and of wooden spears, fire-sticks, and other objects too numerous to mention; but by which the fact is established that they had reached already a certain state of civilization, which in many respects seems not to have been inferior to that possessed by the Maoris when New Zealand was first visited by Europeans.

At the same time, if we consider the position of the kitchen middens on the dunes in the vicinity of the cave, and those which I discovered on the lines of inner dunes in the neighbourhood of Christchurch, even the most ardent defender of the groundless assertions that the Moas only became extinct some 80 or 100 years ago, must admit that at least in this portion of the island these gigantic birds were exterminated at a period when the physical features in this part of the Canterbury plains near the sea were different from what they are now, that large lagoon-like lakes have since been filled up, and sand dunes of considerable width have been added to those then existing. In one word, those changes during quarternary times have been of such magnitude that it is impossible to estimate, even approximately, the length of time necessary

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for the achievement of such important alterations, worked out by the action of the sea and the rivers entering it.

And as in other portions of this island the deposits in which the kitchen middens of the Moa-hunters occur are of similar antiquity, I have no doubt that my views expressed on this subject some years ago will gain general acceptance in due time, although I know that erroneous notions to the contrary, when they have once become popular prejudices, are difficult to eradicate; especially when they are supported by one or two scientific men in New Zealand, notwithstanding that their assertions never stood the test of critical examination, and have been refuted over and over again.

That after the deposition of the dirt bed the cave remained uninhabited for a considerable space of time, is not only proved by the clear line of demarcation between that layer and the shell bed above it, in which no Moa bones were found, but also by the deposit of blown sands about a foot thick at the entrance, and gradually thinning out as it advances towards the interior of the cave. Moreover, if we consider that at least these lower shell-beds in the cave are of contemporaneous origin with those which are situated outside on the dunes to which Maori tradition assigns such a high antiquity, it is evident, judging from their situation in such a distant and well-defined position above the bed containing Moa bones, that the extinction of our gigantic birds, reasoning from this fact alone, is thrown back for a considerable space of time.

Of course it is impossible to calculate this time by even hundreds of years, but as polished stone implements have been found in New Zealand, buried in littoral beds, 15 feet below the surface in undisturbed ground, over which extensive forests are growing, containing trees of enormous size, there is no doubt that the use of polished stone implements dates far back in pre-historic times; I mean to say, to a period to which even the most obscure traditions of the aborigines do not reach.

Moreover, it has been proved by philological researches, that the Polynesian race, to which the Maoris belong, is of high antiquity, and that since their location in the Pacific Ocean, great physical changes must have taken place in this part of the earth's surface.

The similarity of the language spoken on numerous small islands situated at such considerable distances from each other, is no argument against such a hypothesis, because, under certain conditions, even without accidental or intended migrations, languages may remain nearly unchanged for a considerable space of time, I may even venture to say for thousands of years. In support of this view I wish only to refer here to the great resemblance of the Coptic with the language of the old Egyptians, as revealed to us by the translation of the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the oldest monuments of that wonderful race still standing proudly on the banks of the Nile.

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If we now consider for a moment the shell-beds in the cave, we are led to the conclusion, principally judging from the absence of cooking places amongst them, and the numerous thin beds of ashes, without doubt the result of camp fires, forming distinct lines of demarcation, that the cave was only occasionally inhabited, and that for their formation alone a long period of time has also to be claimed.

The upper portion of these shell beds, immediately below the surface deposits of European origin, might be assigned to the forefathers of the Maori tribe inhabiting at present the neighbourhood, as according to their communications to the Rev. J. W. Stack, the cave had been used as shelter for their fishing parties in former times.

And thus another step towards the elucidation of the question, when the Moa became extinct has been made, and I have no doubt that future researches in similar localities will not only offer a confirmation of the views, as based upon the results of these excavations, but give us still more material towards a better knowledge of the life and manners of the primitive people who exterminated the gigantic birds once inhabiting these islands.