Art. XIX.—Notes on some Ancient Aboriginal Caches near Wanganui.
[Read before Wellington Philosophical Society, 9th December, 1876.]
I Have compiled the following notes on an examination of some ancient aboriginal caches near Wanganui, not only because I believe they may be of interest to the Wellington Philosophical Society, but because I think it well that the result of any such investigation should be placed on record for the guidance of other explorers, and to facilitate the comparison of similar observations in different localities.
The coast between the mouths of the Wanganui and Kai Iwi rivers is formed throughout the greater part of its length of cliffs from 120 feet to 150 feet high, against the base of which the sea beats for so great a portion of every tide that it is only for an hour or two at dead low water that any one can pass below them. This of course necessitated the opening of tracks parallel with the coast line, and at some little distance from it, and such tracks have evidently been used from a very early period. The ground on the top of the cliffs is covered with sand dunes, extending to an average distance of a quarter of a mile inland. These dunes are, however, for the most part disposed in high ridges, extending diagonally inland at an angle of from 30° to 40° from the coast line. The cliffs are of the marine tertiary formation, and wear away very rapidly (at an average rate—so far as I can judge by nearly 26 years knowledge of them—of about six feet per annum), and the sand dunes are continually creeping inland, and covering soil previously occupied by vegetation, fern, flax, toi-toi, and grass. The actual ridges of sand often extend for a distance of half a mile, or more, inland; but between them the vegetation, on the other hand, often extends to within one or two hundred yards of the actual cliff. It is noticeable that as the sand covers up the vegetation, it seems actually to desiccate and destroy not only it, but also the soil on which it grows, so that when any surface afterwards becomes exposed by the sand being blown from off it, on the
onward march of the sand, such surface always consists of the bare clay, with a few dried-up roots of fern, etc., traversing it. Ancient forests, with some of the trunks of the trees lying prostrate, and all their stumps standing erect, though broken off eighteen inches to three feet above the root, occur at three different levels, viz., at about 20 feet, 70 feet, and 120 feet above high-water mark: and even the highest of these has been submerged, and covered to a depth of several feet with marine deposit. Owing to the route along the base of the cliffs being only practicable during so short a portion of the tide, and my not having been along it for many years, I cannot say whether these forest layers show in any place one above the other, and thus indicate separate periods of depression and upheaval, or whether they may have merely grown on terraces of different heights, and been all submerged at one time; but I may note, that while the lowest layer consists of mixed timber of moderate size, the second seems to be exclusively of manuka trees which cannot have exceeded six inches to eight inches in diameter, and appear to have been of scrubby growth, and the top one contains the butts of large Ratas and Totaras, such as could not now be found for many miles inland. These large trees in the top layer of forest have also, in many instances, evidently been destroyed by fire, but no trace of similar destruction has, so far as I know, been observed in the case of either of the lower layers. From having had, during the last 26 years, continued opportunities of noticing the appearance of stumps of trees which have been killed by fire, I am satisfied that the charred condition of the stumps in this upper layer of forest is the result of fires lighted while the trees were alive, though whether by human agency it is impossible to say with any certainty. My own impression is that these trees were burned by human beings: because had the forest been sot on fire through volcanic action, I think the whole, and not merely detached large trees here and there, would have shown the fiery traces. And had the fires been kindled in the stumps, when they were exposed after upheaval, their partially rotted condition would probably have caused them to be utterly consumed, and at all events the earthy matter with which they are impregnated would have caused them to burn with a red ash, which always remains distinctly visible for very lengthened periods where swamp or sunken timber has been the material of a fire. I have noted the above particulars because they will serve to make the following more intelligible; and may further add that from the mouth of the Wanganui river to that of the Omapu stream, a distance of about five and a-half miles, there is not a single brook or watercourse flowing into the sea, though numerous springs ooze out on the beach, or trickle out of the face of the cliffs.
To come, however, to the immediate subject of this paper, it is right that
I should mention that Mr. G. Roberts, the Government Surveyor, when lately engaged in making a traverse of this portion of the coast, noticed at many places among the sand-hills, and particularly on places from which the sand had been blown off, large quantities of stones, such as Maoris use for cooking food in their hangis. In company with these were considerable quantities of charcoal and a very large number of fragments of bone, mostly those of Moas, but some which he fancied were human. He further observed that in their vicinity were many of those little groups of white quartz pebbles which are supposed to have been swallowed by the Moas for digestive purposes, and the constant occurrence of which in such groups of tolerably uniform size seems to indicate their having been emptied out of a bird's crop, or some similar receptacle. On closer inspection of these collections of cooking stores, he found among them some stone adzes, and observed a great many of the stone flakes such as savages use for knives, and for pointing arrows and spears. He likewise ascertained that the owners of the properties on which the stones were lying (or persons in their employ) had at different times picked up many articles of the above kinds at these places; and he, therefore, came to the conclusion that these deposits were of the same character as the kitchen middens of Europe, and might similarly repay the trouble of an examination. He, therefore, mentioned the matter to myself and others whom he thought likely to take an interest in such questions; and thus Mr. M. V. Hodge and I were led to devote the whole of yesterday to an examination of the deposits. The first places which we examined were on the immediate banks of the Omapu stream, a locality in which Mr. Roberts had mentioned that there were some extensive deposits, which, however, we failed to discover, no doubt from want of sufficiently definite directions as to their site. We found here only a few hangis, and these apparently of quite recent date, and not accompanied by anything worthy of notice. About half a mile nearer to Wanganui, however, we found near the top of the cliff a very large quantity (certainly many thousands) of cooking stones, spread over an area of nearly a quarter of an acre in extent, and among them were various articles such as Mr. Roberts had described. We noticed that a good many of the larger stones appeared to have been arranged in circles, or ovals, of from two feet to three feet in diameter; but at first we did not take much note of this, as we supposed such rings merely marked the outline of old hangis; and though we examined some of these, and found within them stone knives and pieces of basaltic stone, some of them partially shaped, mixed with charcoal and pieces of bone, some of which were certainly Moa bones, while others were jaw bones of large fish, and one apparently that of some animal, yet, the idea that these were hangis was so strongly in cur minds that we failed
to notice the fact that there was in each instance only the ring of large stones, and that the rest of the articles, which would in such a case have covered the bottom of the excavation, were wanting. These rings, also, were in all these instances imperfect, and the contents had been disturbed and scattered, either by some one (possibly Mr. Roberts and his men) who had examined them, or by the horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs which feed on the adjacent ground, and no doubt constantly pass over the place. At one end of the space, however, we saw a perfect circle of stones, which had evidently been only recently exposed by the sand drifting from off them; and an examination of the contents of this threw quite a new light on the matter. There was certainly some charcoal in the hollow which was surrounded by the stones, just as there was on all the surrounding ground, and there were sundry pieces of Moa bone and some fish jaws at the bottom of the hole; but the principal contents were of a very different kind. They consisted of a very fair stone adze (of grey stone, like chalcedony); a number of pieces of the black basaltic stone of which many old adzes are made, some quite rough, others roughly chipped into shape, and some of them partially ground; what looked like a broken piece of the cutting edge of a very large adze, and had probably been used as a knife or scraper; two or three dozen flakes, mostly of obsidian, but some of the basaltic stone, and one of them a brownish red stone with a vitreous fracture; and several pieces of petrified wood: not what is frequently so called—wood, covered with a coating of limestone—but a substance similar to what is known as opalized wood, in which the whole substance of the wood has become changed into very hard stone, while at the same time its whole structure, both as regards grain and fibre is unaltered. There could, in fact, be no question that the articles were the domestic implements of some ancient savage, or savage family, which had been purposely deposited where we found them, and been surrounded with the ring of stones to mark the place. And I have no doubt that the other, now imperfect, rings originated in the same manner, and had similar contents. Such stone implements as I have mentioned would not be used as cooking stones, and they had not been subjected to the action of fire, and, moreover, there were no other stones in the hole. When, too, the food is removed from a hangi, the stones remain at the bottom till required to be re-heated, and any bones thrown into the hollow lie upon them. If, when the stones are taken out, the bones fell to the bottom, they would be in contact with the burning wood next used to heat the hangi, and would of course be calcined. In the deposit we found, the bones were below the stone articles, and yet were not in the least burned. The whole character of the deposits and their surroundings seem to me to raise important questions, to which I will refer
presently, after I have described the other similar deposits which we found nearer the Wanganui river. These occur at about ten different places in a distance of about three and a-half miles, and are of greater or less extent. Some of them have, like the first group, been buried in the natural surface of the ground, while others have, clearly, been sunk in the surface of the sand after it had attained a depth of several feet, as we found one câche in process of destruction, owing to its occurring on the slope of the back end of a sand-hill which was being blown off, and the clay surface immediately in rear of this sand-hill was strewn with stones and other articles that had evidently been buried in câches already destroyed. There were bones of similar kinds to those we had previously found, pieces of the adze stone, more or less shaped, and a great many stone knives, mostly of grey or black basaltic stone, though some were of obsidian. I also found a slightly curved club, of grey stone, having its transverse section oblong, with rounded edges, and its handle ground oval, so as to fit comfortably into the hand: and a large round stone, with a groove cut round it, which was probably intended as a sinker for a fishing line. In several cases the articles are scattered on the clay surface on which the stumps of the highest layer of forest trees are standing; but I could not find any indication of their having been actually deposited at that level: on the contrary, we observed that in each such case the marine deposit which had covered the stumps to a depth of several feet (as was evident from its remaining at that level close by), was of a soft friable nature, and broke up and wore away rapidly when exposed to the sun and wind and the trampling of animals, and we judged that the câches had been formed on the natural surface when it consisted of this marine deposit, overgrown by vegetation; and that their contents had been scattered, and fallen to the level at which we found them, as the deposit wore away.
Now, as regards the origin and date of these deposits, and the persons by whom they were made: The first and most obvious idea that occurred to us was, that the spots at which they occur mark the sites of ancient camping places. But several considerations seem to show that this is not the true solution of the first question. In the first place, it is unlikely that persons travelling up or down the coast would have had so many different camping places in so short a distance, and all in such close proximity to an important settlement like Putiki pah. In the next place, Putiki is three miles inland, and as there is no tradition of any pah having existed lower down, and there was therefore no ferry below that point, the track leading towards Kai Iwi started at once from opposite the pah, and passed considerably inland of these deposits. If, therefore, these places were camps, they were used, not by persons travelling to and fro, but by some who stopped
at them at intervals (probably certain seasons), for some purpose such as fishing. The fish bones and stone sinker, and the fact that the enormous number of cooking stones and knives at some of them apparently indicated that they had been used by considerable bodies of people, seem to countenance this theory; and the very manner of the deposits also, to a certain extent supports it. It appeared to us as if each family, on leaving, had collected such of their implements which they did not care to carry with them, and covered them up in a hole, and put a ring of large stones around to mark the spot, so that they might at once find them again on their return. And we thought that the reason why they had not been again taken from the holes was that, before their owners visited the spot next season, the drifting of the sand had covered the places, so as to render their recovery impossible. It will be observed that as the grinding of the stone adzes was effected by means of sand and water, the vicinity of sand-hills would offer greater facilities than other localities for the manufacture, and that hence the unfinished articles would be likely to be left behind, with a view to their completion at a subsequent date. As such articles, too, had an appreciable value to their owners and the neighbours, I think that, in this case we may fairly presume that the tapu was a recognised institution when the articles were deposited, and that some ceremony, or incantation was used in making the deposit, in order to protect it from spoliation. I have very strong doubts, however, as to this being the true solution of the origin of these deposits. It is very unlikely that camps occupied for lengthened periods, such as the summer season, even for fishing purposes, would have been formed so close within the line of the sand-hills as to be enveloped in a cloud of sand whenever there was any wind, and be liable to be overwhelmed and buried under the dunes as they advanced. Permanent camps, and indeed, almost any camps, too, would only be formed in close proximity to water, yet the first place we examined is fully a quarter of a mile from any accessible water, and all the others very much further—in some instances fully a mile. Even assuming that they were fishing camps, and that water for use at them was obtained from springs on the beach, yet, it is perfectly certain that when these deposits were formed the distance to such springs must have been enormously more than it has now become by reason of the wearing away of the cliffs, and it seems to follow that there must have been means of access to the beach which do not now exist, and which I see no reason for supposing existed at any such recent date as that at which I am inclined to fix the formation. There are no hollows down which tracks could have led to the shore from these points, and it does not seem reasonable to suppose that savages would scale cliffs 150 feet high; still less, continually provide fresh means for scaling them as they wore away, when; within a distance of a
couple of miles on both sides (at the Omapu stream, and near the Wanganui Heads) there were easy natural slopes leading right down to the beach. There would be, also, no places in which canoes could be kept at the base of the cliffs, and there are no rocks, on which people could stand to fish from the shore. The idea, therefore, of these places being fishing camps seems to me to be untenable, unless the coast line has been upheaved nearly 150 feet, and the cliffs formed, since such camps were in use; and though the Maoris have a tradition that, when their ancestors landed in the island, the Wanganui valley, for many miles above the town, was an arm of the sea, yet, an upheaval of 50 feet would suffice to change such a condition of the coast to its present one, and the age of the timber growing in the valley indicates that no such upheaval ever has occurred within far more than the period stated. I think, in fact, that this tradition, and others respecting geological changes, are either Negretto ones—which have been handed down by the Maoris, rather than original Maori ones,—or that they show that some of the old Maoris had sufficient intelligence to perceive from the geological indications what changes must have taken place, and what must have been the state of certain localities at some previous, though possibly somewhat remote period, and that their pointing out this to their friends has caused the change to be handed down as a matter of history. Indeed, I see no other way of reconciling these traditions and the Maori genealogies (which last I believe to be in the main correct). Our first idea, too, as to the manner in which these deposits had been preserved (by being accidentally covered up by sand) was, I think, erroneous. From having particularly noted the changes in the position of several sand-hills since 1851, I estimate that they travel at the rate of about a chain in ten years, and probably travelled more slowly when they had more vegetation on them, and were less traversed by animals. The area over which the circles of stones at the first place which we examined are distributed extends fully two chains in the direction in which the sand travels; and it is, therefore in the highest degree improbable that the whole could have been covered by one season's gales, particularly as the sand-hill is only of moderate height; and had the savages on their return on any occasion found the windward portion of their deposits buried, they would, I think, unquestionably have been careful not to bury further treasures so near the enemy. This would have caused large intervals to occur between different sets of deposits in the same locality. But no such interval exists. On the contrary, the circles are distributed over the whole area very uniformly, at distances of a few yards only asunder; and this seems to me to show conclusively that the covering up of the deposits was not accidental. The idea occurred to me that these places might have been camps used by Natives
engaged in catching the titi, or mutton birds, which would to some extent meet some of the difficulties. Such camps would only be used at night, in fine summer weather; and as the wind at such times is merely the light land breeze, no great annoyance from blowing sand would be experienced. As, too, the Natives would only retire from the camp during the day, to work at cultitions or other matters, and return again in the evening, their leaving their adzes, etc., only slightly covered up appears the more intelligible. It might also account for the camp being so near the cliff, and so far from water, as enough of the latter for the night's consumption might easily be carried up as the savages returned each evening. While, too, some of the party were catching the birds, others, who were to succeed them, might very likely be occupied in grinding the stone tools into shape. But this conjecture utterly fails to account for the articles remaining permanently deposited. For, even supposing the party to have been attacked and overcome during the day, some would no doubt escape and return. And, moreover, it would not explain such quantities of the rings and of the cooking stones, etc., being collected together; as I have no reason to suppose that titi were ever so numerous hereabouts as to lead such bodies of Natives to assemble for their capture as would appear to have mustered at these spots. After careful consideration, therefore, of the whole subject, I have come to the conclusion that these supposed camps are really the depositaries of articles belonging to the dead. We know that the northern Natives fancied that the souls of the departed took their flight from earth off a cliff at the North Cape; and probably other tribes held similar ideas respecting cliffs in their own neighbourhoods. We know that the Maoris had such a dislike to using articles that had belonged to a deceased person that, even within the last fifteen or twenty years, axes, spades, etc., whose owner was dead, were destroyed, and any hut within which a death occurred was at once burned. We know, moreover, that weapons and other valuables were buried with their owners. Now, it would be simply impossible to do this last where the owner had been killed and eaten by an enemy, as must have constantly happened in olden times in New Zealand; and it appears likely, therefore, that, in such cases, the property of the deceased would be placed near the place from whence his spirit was believed to have started on its journey to the other world. This would explain at once why the treasures were buried under the sand, as they would probably be purposely placed at the very foot of an advancing sand-hill, with a view to its covering them, and protecting them from desecration. The bones found with them might be those of food, intended for the departed; or may have been for their use in some other way. And the large quantity of scattered bones and cooking stones (particularly of the latter,) might be explained by the fact that on occasions
of making such deposits, a funeral feast in honour of the dead may have been consumed: and that, as the cooking stones used on previous occasions would have been covered up, fresh ones were brought each time, and thus the present appearance of a very large number of people having visited the place would result from the successive visits of even a small hapu. The number of the supposed camps in so short a distance along the cliff might arise from each hapu having its own depositary. The surrounding of each deposit with a ring of stones might be a ceremonial observance intended to protect the articles till securely covered by the sand. Indeed, the only thing for which this supposition would apparently not account is the presence of the petrified wood. This, however, is just the sort of substance to attract the special notice of savages, and might perhaps be regarded as having a magical or supernatural origin or power; and though I have never heard of its being used by Natives in any way, or of its having been noticed as a product of any part of the Colony, yet I am satisfied that it was regarded as valuable in some respect, not only from the number of pieces of it in the deposits we visited, but from my having seen pieces, some years ago, which had been found in company with stone articles at Turakina. As regards the date at which, and the persons by whom the deposits were made, it is not easy to arrive at any definite conclusion. The sand-hills under which they have been buried, and which have again left them exposed after passing, are not more than from 30 to 40 chains long, which, at their present rate of progress, would give only from 300 to 400 years as the time that had elapsed since the deposits were made, and would make it appear that the Maoris were the depositors. On the other hand, the articles are of a ruder type (of course the unfinished state of many of them may to some extent account for this,) than any Maori tools or weapons I have ever seen; and some of the smaller stone flakes have the appearance of having been intended for arrow points rather than knives. This might, of course, be accidental; and, moreover, I never heard that the Australian blacks, to whom the New Zealand Negrettos were probably allied, used arrows; and had the latter done so, the bow would doubtless have remained in use as a Maori weapon. The petrified wood may perhaps throw light on this question, as I know it is found in Australia; and if the blacks there value it, and the Maoris do not, its presence in the câches would tend greatly to connect them with the Negretto race.
I thought it well to make the above remarks as to the probable origin and date of the deposits, both with a view to assisting the members in discussing these questions, and enabling them to judge which theory accorded best with the circumstances and surroundings of any similar deposits known to them; and in order that any persons, who may
meet with similar deposits elsewhere, may have their attention directed to such points, as may aid those who take interest in such matters, in arriving at a correct conclusion respecting them. I think it would be well if persons who take such interest, and who reside near the coast, should make a point of examining their coast line soon and occasionally, as most of the deposits near here have been disturbed by animals, or thoughtless visitors, and the whole of them will, in a few years at furthest, have fallen into the sea, through the wearing away of the cliffs, as I have little doubt that many have already fallen.
One fragment of a jaw which Mr. Hodge picked up contains a molar tooth, and is, he thinks, human. The supposed animal jaw he thinks is that of some canine; which would indicate that dogs of some kind existed in the Colony long before Captain Cook's time.