Art. V.—On the Identity of the Moa-hunters with the present Maori Race.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 8th August, 1874.]
During the spring of 1872, under the direction of Dr. Haast, of Christchurch, I excavated what is known as Moa-bone Cave, which is situated about seven miles from Christchurch, on the Christchurch and Sumner Road; the object of the excavation being to procure further information relative to the association of Moa-bones with the remains of the former human inhabitants of the cave. On the completion of the work I supplied Dr. Haast with a report embodying the main facts collected during the progress of the excavation, together with ample collections of the various relics found. My present paper is but an amplification of the report mentioned, with the addition of my own views respecting the matter at issue, viz:—Whether the Moa-hunters were possessed of tools other than those of the rudest description; and whether this constituted a distinction between them and the Maori inhabitants of later times?
With these objects in view work was commenced on 3rd October, and was continued for the following seven weeks, during which period the entire cave and a considerable area outside was turned over.
The cave is situated in a low spur of the volcanic range just opposite the junction of the Avon and Heathcote rivers, the mouth of the cave looking north-west, and facing the estuary of the two rivers. The cave itself results from the excavation by the sea of an old soil and other loose material between the two compact streams of lava rock, and it consists of three separate chambers in a nearly straight line from the entrance.
The outer cave is by far the largest. It measures 100 feet in length, 74 feet at its greatest width, and varies in height from 12 to 25 feet. The walls are for the most part nearly vertical, the roof jagged and uneven, as its varying
height will indicate. The entrance, 40 feet in width, is obstructed by large masses of the upper bed having fallen across the entrance.
The middle cave is but a lower recess at the further end of the outer cave, and measures 16 feet in length, 14 feet in width, and is not more than 10 feet high.
The inner, or third cave, is reached by a narrow passage at the further end of the middle cave, and is but a narrow opening, so low as to be entered with some difficulty. All three caves contained Moa-bones, flint implements, and much charcoal, though the accumulations of importance were nearly all contained in the outer cave. Exact measurement showed the sandy floor of the cave to be but a few feet above the level of high-water mark, though the accumulation of drift sand outside reached an elevation considerably higher.
The barrier of fallen rocks in the entrance of the cave doubtless prevented the ingress of drift sand to the outer chamber of the cave, and they may therefore have been in their present position before the final recession of the sea. But the perfectly smooth and level floor, even close up to the rocks, indicates that the water flowed in and out in one unbroken sheet, and that therefore the rocks in question must have fallen at or subsequently to the elevation of the land. Examinations outside the cave showed that occupation had originally taken place on a very uneven surface, many of the original sand hills yet forming the highest part of the present ones; the depressions being but filled-up hollows of yet greater depth, beneath the superficial drift of which often occurs a bed containing works of art and bones of man, dog, Moa, etc., resting on the undisturbed sand beneath.
Much drift wood lay scattered over the sandy floor of the cave, and above that was a bed of breccia, the accumulated débris from the roof of the cave, which was somewhat unequal in its distribution, reaching its greatest thickness near the middle of the cave, where in places it was from 3 to 4 feet, and where the roof was very uneven consisted of larger material than elsewhere. This bed contained great quantities of bird bones of small size, and many seal bones, some of rare or unknown species, together with a few flints and a piece of obsidian, evidently here through human agency. But the chief interest attaching to this bed is the occurrence of a human jaw and one of the principal bones of the heel, in a spot where it had evidently not been disturbed. The jaw was found buried 6 inches beneath the surface of the sand, and immediately below the remains of a seal that had evidently been stranded there. In the conglomerate itself the further finding of several charred seal bones, where the bed was about 15 inches thick, and the fact that the drift wood underlying it was much burned on its upper surface, is evidence that the cave was occupied thus early. Still, while not doubting that the
upper part of this conglomerate belongs to the earliest period of occupation, I would hesitate to say that the middle and lower parts do, as the vicinity of an oven, dug into the underlying sands, may account for the charred wood and bones. But the human bones were found in a purely undisturbed locality.
The conglomerate was overlaid by what, in order to distinguish it, I have called the dirt-bed, consisting of charcoal, chips of wood, fragments of nets and matting, tools of wood and stone, quantities of grass and fern, altogether forming a matted compound well deserving the appellation. Many bones of various birds, Moa included, were found in this bed; and, as we neared the mouth of the cave in the progress of the excavations, polished stone tools of high finish and keen edge were found in such positions as would lead to the inference that they belong to the bed in question, and are therefore contemporaneous with the Moa, whose bones are found in the same bed. In the north-east and further end of the cave, surrounding and underlying an immense rock fallen from the roof and resting on the drift-wood, were found many Moa-bones, and various Maori appliances for obtaining fire, and near an oven dug through the conglomerate quantities of Moa egg shells were found.
Near the middle of the cave the conglomerate had evidently been cleared away and a house erected, of which three posts burned to the level of the dirt-bed were in place when the excavation was made. In front of where the door of this house should have been, in a small hole dug through the dirt-bed and underlying conglomerate, lying directly on the sands, I found a well polished stone chisel, and near the same place several broken adzes in the dirt-bed in the close vicinity of Moa-bones. Six or eight feet from the western wall, and about 10 feet from the line of fallen rocks in front of the cave was found a fragment of a highly polished adze, and between that and the wall two pieces of sandstone much grooved as though by the sharpening of a narrow tool.
Here were heavy fire-beds with many Moa-bones of the largest size, and several stones like oven-stones, but not enough wherewith to line an oven of size sufficient to cook a Moa in. This leads me to suppose that the Moa-hunters cooked their repasts outside, and only occasionally had meals inside. Otherwise how shall we account for the comparative scarcity of bones inside and their comparative abundance outside the cave under circumstances much less favourable for their preservation.
A notable feature of this dirt-bed was the almost entire absence of the remains of shell-fish which are so plentiful in the overlying beds, a peculiarity so striking as to be evident at a glance in the sectional trenches cut across the principal chamber of the cave.
A bed of loose shells, mostly freed by means of fire from extraneous consumable matter, having in places beds of earthy lime, the result of their
decomposition, of a thickness not less than 12 or 14 inches in places. This was overlaid by a bed of grass and fern-leaves in which European and Maori materials were freely mixed. The thickness of the purely shell-bed was in places scarcely short of 5 feet, the other overlying beds varying from a few inches to 2 feet.
The inner caves offered no points of interest, save that fire-heaps and Moa-bones were found in them.
Excavations outside the cave gave much the same results as the excavations inside, viz, that polished implements occurred associated with Moa and dog-bones in beds having comparatively few or no shells, and I cannot enter tain a doubt but that the Moa-hunters were, as well as the more modern. Maoris, possessed of instruments of high polish, both in wood and stone. The Moa-hunters also hunted the seal, as their bones are freely mixed with those of the Moa, and fragments of nets would seem to show that the fisherman's art was not unknown to them.
In the cave Moa-bones did occasionally occur in the upper shell deposits, but they were of rare occurrence, and were undoubtedly foreign to the bed in which they occurred. I have reason to believe that the clear and distinct line of parting between the beds containing Moa-bones and the overlying shell-beds (the materials of neither transgressing their proper boundary) marks a very long blank in the history of the cave as a human habitation, and that only the desertion of the cave during Moa-hunting times, in order to follow the game to its furthest fastnesses after its extinction on the hills of the neighbourhood, can account for the fact in a satisfactory manner. Such a radical change of food as is indicated by the very different material of the deposits could not have been brought about in a short time; and whether or not it be agreed that its more recent occupants were the same race, the fact must remain the same, that it was uninhabited during the period of the final extinction of the Moa in a large district of the surrounding neighbourhood.
With regard to the vexed question whether the Moa-hunters were Maoris or another race, I cannot think that any light has been thrown upon the mystery, for a mystery it yet remains in spite of several very ingenious endeavours to enlighten us upon the matter. Hitherto every attempt in this direction has failed, more or less. But it is doubtless easier to propound a theory than to defend it against the attacks of an opponent. It is a subject of surpassing interest, and one that may well engage the attention paid to it by several of our-chief scientific observers, who, though by no means arriving at the same conclusions, yet ably and stoutly defend each his own theory on the subject.
With all deference to the maturer judgment of those whose studies in time past may have been directed to the subject, I cannot regard as of high value
any investigations carried on in native encampments of the Moa-hunting period; at least not until it is clearly established how they are related to each other in time, and as yet the first step has to be taken in the fixing a chronological succession to these accumulations. No doubt such an attempt will have its difficulties, and not the least will be the want of a starting point at either end of the scale. The want of such a positive stand-point whereby we might compare the relative age of encampments that must vary very much in point of time must necessarily constitute the first difficulty to be got rid of. As for example, who without such a test shall judge whether the encampment at the mouth of the Rakaia is older than that at Moa-bone Point, Sumner, or in what relation to these former stands the encampment at Shag Point?
Briefly summed up, the evidence is contradictory; that is if we admit the evidence by which we support the claims of the different encampments to be of equal value. Thus we should say that the Sumner encampment is younger than that at the Rakaia, because in the latter no traces of polished implements have been found directly in contact with Moa remains, or in the accumulations proper to the period when the Moa served as food for the inhabitants. It is very generally admitted that in such an encampment the absence of polished tools and other works of art of high finish indicates surely a time prior to the attainment of the art of so polishing, and that accumulations containing polished tools must of necessity be the younger. In a paper read to the Wellington Philosophical Society, Dr. Hector has shown that in association with Moa remains such polished implements would necessarily be rare, and that by their absence it need not necessarily be inferred that they were not held in possession. Thus, on these grounds, I cannot hold that the Rakaia encampment proves by that test to be either older or younger than the Sumner. But for the presence of Moa-bones it might have been a Maori encampment of yesterday. The Sumner encampment does certainly contain polished tools in connection with Moa-bones, and were such a test to be depended on, it would go to prove that it is the younger of the two. But if, as is reasonable to suppose, a stone hatchet, or a polished mere, was an implement less serviceable in the dismemberment of a fallen Moa than a sharp flake of flint with an edge far superior for the purpose in view, then we can readily understand why polished implements should be so scarce.
But to apply another test of the relative age of these beds. The excavations at the Rakaia have not hitherto disclosed the remains of any of the larger species of the Moa, and it may be fairly argued that the more gigantic forms would be the first to disappear, whether in the ordinary process of extinction or by the hands of man. In the Sumner encampment are found the remains of the species robustus, which seems to have been extinct when
the Rakaia encampment was occupied. This much we may presume, since the plains would certainly form the more suitable feeding ground for such a large bird. Their remains at Summer would, I think, indicate a time when they were comparatively plentiful, and consequently a time prior to their supposed extinction at the Rakaia; while the absence of polished tools at the Rakaia in the face of their occurrence with Moa remains at Sumner, does not, I think, prove more than that the occupants of the Rakaia encampment were more careful of their goods than their Sumner brethren.
Grounding my premises on evidence already produced, it may be contended that a considerable time elapsed from the time that the last Moa was eaten on the site of the Sumner encampment, till were begun the accumulations of mollusk remains aggregated in after times. This interval may have been sufficient for the accumulation in other localities of considerable quantities of material containing the remains of the Moa, which may even have been contemporaneous with part of the after accumulations of shells in the Sumner Cave. This might possibly be looked upon as an admission that the Moa might have reached a very recent, even an historical, period in the history of New Zealand, but all that is meant is, that it reached a time posterior to the accumulation of some of the shell mounds. How long individual instances may have outlived the general extinction it is not even pretended to say.
Possibly elsewhere encampments may be found which were occupied continuously, and where the evidence will be found to point to the gradual progression of the Moa-hunter into the fish-eater. The question viewed in this light at once points to the identity of the Moa-hunters and the present inhabitants of these islands.
We have thus seen that the extinction may have been a gradual process, and that many shell accumulations may be contemporaneous with existing mounds containing Moa remains. But it is yet to be proved that these latter accumulations are the works of the present Maori race. For it follows of necessity that these post-Moa-hunter accumulations and those of the modern historical Maori would be very much alike, as were their necessities, and it is by no means clearly proved that the Moa-hunters were Maoris, or vice-versâ. Nor will it, in my opinion, prove ought else than that after the extinction of the Moa its destroyers were compelled to live on shell-fish, and in the main subsist by the products of the sea. It would also appear that when the shell mounds of the Sumner cave were accumulated, maize and European products introduced by Captain Cook were unknown, as no traces of such were found, while materials apparently as liable to destruction were found in abundance.
But, throwing aside this evidence, and accepting as fact that the Moa-hunters cannot be proved identical with the progenitors of the present
Maoris, let us see how far the opposite will prove the Maoris to have been Moa-hunters. Maori traditions must be in some measure for a few generations back, and as far as we dare place confidence in any compilation of these traditions they in nowise prove the Moa as contemporaneous with the subjects of these traditions. Maori traditions, collected after this subject has been so freely discussed, must naturally be accepted with great reservation.
Now if, as commonly stated, the present inhabitants immigrated hither, say 350 years ago, and if, after their arrival here, the Moa was exterminated by them, I cannot but think that reliable accounts would have reached present times. And if individual specimens of the Moa lived till times as recent as 50 or even 100 years ago, surely a people who could preserve exact tradition of matters to them much more trivial, could hardly have failed to have given them a prominent place in their traditions. And thus we are led to suppose that a people prior to the advent of the present stock were the exterminators of the Moa, always accepting as incontrovertible that the immigration alluded to did not take place 1,000 years earlier than stated in the said traditions on the subject.
But, in the mean time, accepting the 350 years, and treating 1,350 as a wild notion which the science of the subject has never yet dreamt of, let us see if the 350 years will be sufficient for the accomplishment of all that of necessity must be performed by these immigrants and their descendants.
The generally received accounts state that the immigrants were far from being numerous. Also that quarrels—probably wars—ensued shortly after their arrival here, which would certainly tend in no inconsiderable degree to retard the natural increase of the population, while little encouragement is held out that population is materially assisted by further immigrations from Hawaiki.
Further tradition states that at a very early period in their history were built those terraced hill-forts so abundant in some parts of the North Island; and all agree that a considerable population would be required for their construction; while it is further added that they are the works not of whole sections of the community, but were executed by the various hapus of the different tribes.
And if, as we have seen, the original inhabitants were few, and their increase naturally greatly retarded by war, yet they must have been early in a position to undertake the execution of the works spoken of. And if they are the work of district tribal sections, I cannot see that, considering the circumstances, the 350 years will be nearly sufficient for the natural increase of the few original immigrants in sufficient numbers for the execution of even a portion of such works, if their antiquity be as stated.
On all hands it is admitted that 200 years ago a numerous population existed in New Zealand, which, since that time, has been gradually on the decline, chiefly on account of the exterminating wars carried on amongst the natives themselves. And, if the population culminated more than 200 years ago, will 150 years be sufficient for the increase of a few immigrants sufficient numbers so as to render a large country like New Zealand comparatively populous?
In all their traditions, treating of nearly four centuries of time, have any accounts of the Moa been handed down to us? The inevitable conclusion is, that the Moa was either exterminated long before by another race, or that the present inhabitants arrived here not 350 years ago, but 1,-350, and that one of their first works was the extermination of the Moa. Such is my opinion on the subject.