Art. III.—Notes on an ancient Native Burial Place near the Moa-bone Point, Sumner.
Plates III., IV.
[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 23rd December, 1874.]
In the first days of October of last year I was informed by Mr. G. J. Quelch, of Woolston, that during the process of excavations made near the cutting by which the Sumner road leads to the Moa-bone Cave flat, the workmen had disinterred several human skeletons, together with a number of stone implements, I therefore proceeded at once there to obtain information upon the excavations already executed, and to watch further discoveries.
In order to widen the road, which hitherto had led at a very sharp angle to the cutting, deposits were being excavated which fill a small depression to the west of it amongst the rocky bluffs, forming here the shores of the estuary. These deposits, rising gradually to 20 feet above high-water mark, cover an area of about 100 feet broad by about 180 feet long, and were found to be separated in their lower portion into two parts by a bed of volcanic rock, well rounded by the waves of the sea, and of which the westerly portion is the smallest.
The lowest bed—No. 1 in the two sections (Pl. III.), attached to these notes —consists of true marine sands, and contained, besides some fragmentary shells, a few well-rolled seal bones. This deposit is, as far as laid open, from 4 to 7 feet thick. Upon it a sharply-defined layer reposes, No. 2 in the sections, of a totally different character, being a true slope deposit. It consists principally of loam, enclosing a few angular and subangular fragments of volcanic rocks from the adjacent hills. Some portions show traces of vegetable soil. This bed must have been formed either when the sea at this spot was so deep—no estuary existing then so far eastward—that no marine sands could be deposited at the foot of the cliffs, or during a period when Banks Peninsula had been raised to a somewhat higher level than it has at the present time so as to be here removed from the deposition of drift-sands. It has a thickness of 4 feet 8 inches on its eastern and 6 feet 10 inches on its western side, narrowing to about 2 feet in its central portion. It contained no sign of human occupancy, but a few Moa-bones were embedded in it, of which a pelvis of Palapteryx elephantopus was observed at letter A in the accompanying section.
The bed No. 3, which was confined to the eastern and central portions of the ground excavated, consisted generally of drift-sands about 3 feet thick, divided into several layers by darker streaks, that once may have been vegetable matter. On the eastern side, in some spots, the sands were replaced
by a bed of sandy clays, in the centre above the rock they exhibited the character of true drift-sands, gradually thinning out towards the west. This deposit, with one exception, contained all the human skeletons and a few Moa-bones, which were, however, quite intact. With the exception of the skeletons no sign of human occupation, such as ovens and kitchen middens, were found in it. This bed, in ascending the slopes, gradually disappears, and the uppermost bed No. 4, which on the western side lies directly upon the slope deposit, No. 2, ascends to the termination of the slope.
This uppermost layer (No. 4) consists partly of drift-sand, partly of vegetable soil and slope deposits. During its formation the shell-fish eaters were more or less frequently the inhabitants of the locality, preferring the western side, where a few small caves and a favourable aspect of the hill offered them a welcome shelter. It is on the eastern side, about 18 inches to 2 feet thick, diminishes to less than 1 foot in the centre, and gradually gains a thickness of 5 feet in the smaller western portion. The kitchen middens contained in this uppermost bed, and which sometimes form layers throughout the whole thickness, consist mostly of shells of which the Chione stutchburyi (cockle) is the most numerous.
Mesodesma chemnitzii, Amphibola avellana, and Mytilus smaragdinus are also well represented; bones of different species of seals and of the hapuku (Oligorus gigas) were also collected by me. These kitchen middens often forming continuous layers of a thickness of 2 to 3 inches, and in some instances swelling to several feet, thus resemble in every respect those of the shell-fish eating population in the cave and on the adjoining sandhills, and are doubtless their equivalent in time.
At the bottom of this bed, and reposing in a shallow grave, excavated in the slope deposit (No. 2) a human skeleton was found by the workmen, according to them of small stature. It was buried lengthwise, lying on its face, and the bones were so fragile that in removing them they crumbled to pieces. No stone implements or ornaments of any kind were obtained near it. Unfortunately I was not present when the same was disinterred, but an intelligent workman, who was present at its discovery, and in whose veracity I have all confidence, gave me this information. Moreover the shallow excavation was well defined where the bones had been lying. Of course, I have no means of judging if the body to which this skeleton belonged had been buried during or after the period when the other bodies in the central and eastern portion had been interred, although it is evident from its position that the shallow grave was excavated in the slope deposit (No. 2), and that the body was buried long before the shell-fish eaters occupied the ground, from the following observation:—A little higher up, but close to this
burial place, a large cooking oven was laid open, the stones of which had been formed, lying upon the bed No. 2, thus proving that the bed No. 4 could only have been of inconsiderable thickness when the oven was used. This oven and the space near it had been filled with some kitchen middens, consisting almost entirely of large shells of Mesodesma cuneata (No. 4).
I observed already that áll the other skeletons were found in the bed No. 3, confined to the lower portion of the slope, which was confirmed by our undertaking, when the workmen had left, further excavations higher up, but without the least result, only the upper bed (No. 4) with the kitchen middens of the shell-fish eaters being met with, lying directly upon the slope deposit No. 2. This bed (No. 3) is therefore of particular interest to us, as it was used as a burial-place, not less than six human skeletons having been found by the workmen, either during my presence or according to the information received from them. All these skeletons had been buried in a crouching position, each with several (generally three) polished stone implements. They evidently had been placed in the ground before the uppermost bed (No. 4) had been formed, the lower surface of which being continuous and undisturbed; but at what period of the deposition of the lower bed the bodies were placed there I was unable to ascertain, as this latter was much disturbed above the graves, probably from a subsidence during the decomposition of the bodies. The skeleton found on the 2nd October, together with three polished stone implements, was presented to the Museum with two of these tools, by Mr. Thomas Sutton, one of the workmen. He informed me that the skeleton was in a crouching position, and that the three stone implements had been buried close to it. One of them is a small adze of chert (very much resembling that rock, found in the neighbourhood of Nelson), 4 3/4 inches long by 1 1/2 inches broad at the cutting edge. The second is also an adze of considerable size, made from a black siliceous schist, but which unfortunately I could not obtain; whilst the third is the lower portion of a still larger one of the same material, broken transversely at the centre. Although there is an attempt made to polish the broken surface of this tool, it is difficult to understand why it should have been buried with the body, except that it was one of the possessions of the deceased, and which he had just begun to shape into another tool.
The bones belonging to this skeleton show, by their chemical condition, that only a very small amount of animal matter can remain in them, and that it must have been buried for a long lapse of time; but as Dr. Powell will refer fully to the osteological features of this skeleton and describe the skull in detail, and Professor Bickerton will give us his examination as to the chemical condition of the bones, I shall refrain from entering any further into the subject. On the 5th October, during my presence, another skeleton was
discovered under about 2 1/2 feet of soil. The same belonged to a body which had also been buried in the same position as the former, together with three stone implements, of which the edges were highly polished, and which the contractor (Mr. Leathem) kindly handed over to me for the Museum. Also, these bones were in a very fragile state, the skull, like that of the former skeleton, in moving falling to pieces along the sutures. The three stone implements found with this skeleton are manufactured of the same kind of chert as that previously alluded to, and are of three well-defined forms, namely, a chisel 8 3/4 inches long and 1 inch broad, an adze 5 1/2 inches long by 1 3/4 inches broad, both at the cutting edge, and a peculiar tool, best described as a gouge, evidently for hollowing or planing out; it is 7 inches long, and contracts to half an inch at the sharp edge.
We possess several implements of the same pattern found at the Rakaia and several other parts of this island and of different sizes, but although the Rev. J. Stack, as well as myself, showed them to a number of Maoris, some of them aged men, they invariably answered that the use of this latter well-shaped implement was quite unknown to them. The drawings of these three implements added to these notes (Pl. IV.) will make you better acqainted than words can do with their characteristic form. During the next few days several more skeletons were excavated, but, although I generally managed to obtain the skulls, the stone implements found with them had disappeared, notwithstanding that I offered to the workmen a fair price for them. However, from the information obtained through one of the workmen, it appears that each had generally three stone implements buried with it, which were of the same form and material as those previously described, and that no greenstone implements or ornaments had been met with. Thus, on the 8th October, I obtained the skulls of two more skeletons, together with some of the bones found the day before, and which were in the same fragile state, and on the 11th the bones of another skeleton, of which the skull had been disinterred a few days previously.
From the position of the human skeletons in question we have sufficient evidence to conclude that this locality was used as a burial place before the shell-fish eaters occupied the ground, because the more or less faint lines of vegetable soil in the deposit under review are generally very much disturbed above and near the skeletons, and there is no doubt in my mind that the uppermost beds were only formed after the older occupants, probably the Moa-hunters, who were inhabitants, or at least frequent visitors of the Moa-bone Point Cave and flat close by, and who buried here their dead, had long left the ground. In the first instance, there is not the least sign of ovens with Moa-bone kitchen middens in this locality, which, offering such a fine
shelter would certainly have been used by them for a camping ground, had not other causes prevented them. * The Moa-bones found together in the sands of the same bed were doubtless portions of one bird, which accidentally had been buried in them. On the other hand, no Moa-bones of any kind were discovered in the overlying beds, only shells and bones of mammals, fishes, and smaller birds, as in the kitchen middens of the shell-fish eaters. Moreover, these successors of the Moa-hunters did not know that they were camping and feasting on an old burial ground, which, according to Maori usage, is a most sacred spot, and thus would certainly not have been inhabited by the new comers, except from ignorance of its former use.
When designating the newer occupants of the locality shell-fish eaters, in contradistinction to the older, the Moa-hunters, I wish to observe that this does not exclude the possibility, or even probability, of the latter having also used the mollusks of our seas or rivers as food, either from want of their favourite game or from any other reasons.
It would also be rash to conclude from the occurrence of polished stone implements with the skeletons under review that they must have belonged to a comparatively modern or even civilised race, because even races in a very low state of civilisation, who, to judge from their physical features and rude dialect, belong to the earliest races of mankind, possess highly-polished stone implements. I wish here only to point to the aborigines of Australia, who, without doubt, have been using such tools for numberless ages.
I will not here open up the question if the earlier inhabitants of New Zealand, may they have been Moa-hunters or shell-fish eaters, were of Melanesian or Polynesian origin, as this point can and will doubtless be settled by a careful examination of human skeletons found in ancient graves, but I wish to transcribe from the second edition of “Te Ika a Maui,” by the late Rev. Richard Taylor, himself a strong supporter of the theory that the Moa became only extinct in quite recent times, a few passages showing that from what he considers reliable Maori tradition, the Hawaiki immigrants not only found when they landed on the coast of New Zealand a black (Melanesian)
[Footnote] * When treating in my paper on the Moa-bone Point Cave of the agglomerate, or lowest bed lying upon the marine sands, I alluded to the remarkable absence of the same in the centre of the main cave between the four piles forming an oblong square. In order to explain this absence I ventured to offer the suggestion that a hut might have stood here before and during the time the agglomerate was formed, but I added also several reasons which made this very improbable. Since then, my friend Dr. L. Powell has offered an explanation, which from its simplicity, and moreover meeting all the requirements of the case, recommends itself to us as being the best solution of the question. Dr. Powell suggests that a whata or food store resting on the four posts had been placed in the cave, which has also here its greatest altitude. Thus also the fact of the agglomerate thinning out all around is easily explained, because the pieces of rock falling from the roof would sometimes roll a little below the whata, and thus form a somewhat irregular edge.
population, but that they also discovered kitchen middens, with Moa-bone and flint tools. If these traditions can be relied upon, it shows at any rate that the black race, before the arrival of their successors, had been hunting and probably extirpating the Moa.
So, when relating the tradition of Manaia, Taylor quotes from Sir George Grey:— “When he arrived at Rotuhu, at the mouth of the river Waitara, he stopped there, and behold, there were people, even the ancient inhabitants of the island, but Manaia and his followers slew them. They were killed, and Manaia possessed their abode, he, his sons and his people, of those men that Manaia and his followers slew, that the place might be theirs.” According to Taylor, the same is recorded of Turi, who “went on shore and dwelt at Patea and slew the inhabitants thereof” (page 14).
This aboriginal race was remembered as the Maero and Mohoao, or wild men of the woods (page 15). Enumerating on page 290 the arrival of the original canoes in New Zealand, he adds a footnote to No. 12, Te Rangi ua mutu, which came to Rangatapu: “On their arrival at that place, they saw stones like English flints and Moa-bones. It is there I also discovered a large quantity of the bones of the Dinornis. The stones were the stone flakes used as knives, which are still there found by the side of the ancient ovens, a proof of their having belonged to a more ancient race than the Polynesian.”
In any case, we have to expand our conceptions considerably as to the time past, when first the original inhabitants, may they have been black or brown, trod the soil of these beautiful islands, in a period dating back long before the so-called emigration from Hawaiki took place.