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Volume 14, 1881
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– 104 –

Art. VIII.—A few Remarks on the Carved Stone Bird, named Korotangi by the Maoris, now in the possession of Major Wilson.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 13th October, 1881.]

Through the kind offices of Dr. Buller, F.R.S., Major Wilson has sent to the Canterbury Museum a remarkable carving in stone, which he obtained from a native tribe in the North Island, by whom it was much prized; in order that I might have a careful cast prepared from it. Having done so, and before returning it, I have thought that it might not be without interest to the Philosophical Institute to have it exhibited at to night's meeting, and to allow me at the same time to make a few observations on its character.

It is carved out of a very dark green serpentine, according to a calculation made by Mr. G. Gray, of a specific gravity of 2.531, at 60° F., which is about the mean of a series of this mineral, of which the specific gravity has been ascertained by other mineralogists.

The bird, carved in a bold and careful way, and in a natural position, seems to represent, at a first glance, a species of Prion, the beak being so very much depressed, but, on closer examination, it will be seen that it does not possess the united nasal tubes placed on the top of the bill, but has the nostrils lateral, near the base of the beak, as in the ducks, but it is very possible that it might be only a conventional form.

It is not my intention to anticipate, in any way, the forthcoming paper of Major Wilson, who is going to give us in our “Transactions” a doubt-less very interesting account of the history of this remarkable specimen of eastern art, said to have been brought over to New Zealand in one of the original canoes from Hawaiki, but simply to show it to you, and to note its mineralogical character by which it might perhaps be traced to the locality where it was manufactured.

I exhibit, at the same time, from the museum, an ancient Japanese bronze, without doubt a vessel for burning incense, representing also a bird, the character of which is, in many respects, not unlike the specimen carved from stone.

In both, the feathers on the back are rounded, with a central line, from which smaller lines slope down on both sides, while the wing-feathers are more pointed, and have a similar ornamentation.

To my mind there is no doubt that both have a somewhat similar origin, and come either from the same eastern country, or, if from two different countries, that the latter are nearly related to each other, and where, for many centuries, if not thousands of years, industrial art has been practised.

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I wish also to draw your attention to the fact that the stone bird has been carved with a sharp implement, either of iron or bronze, of which, as we know, the Maoris had no knowledge; the lines are all cut so evenly that it could not have been done with a stone implement.

To show in what respect this specimen is held by the natives of the North Island, I add an extract from a letter of Dr. Buller's, received a few days ago:—

“Mr. Sheehan tells me that Rewi Maniapoto was greatly pleased to see the Korotangi on his visit to Waikato, and kept it on the table near his bed, waking up at intervals to tangi over it.”