Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 25, 1892
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VI.

Here, again, is a most important question in relation to which Dr. Haast disagrees with several of his colleagues. The eminent geologist has often declared that he has never found human bones amongst the scattered remains of feasts in the vicinity of the ovens; and from this negative evidence he concludes that the moa-hunters were not cannibals.88 But he himself declares that he was unable to find any more in the heaps of shells which were unquestionably left by the ancient Maoris.89 Moreover, the cannibalism of these latter is well known; and yet Dr. Haast's manner of reasoning would induce us to doubt it, and even to deny it. This simple remark destroys the entire value of Dr. Haast's argument. Besides, in both cases this absence of human remains is very easily understood. It is not when hunting, or when fishing peaceably for shells, that the most cannibal of the tribes regales itself on human flesh. To perpetrate an act of cannibalism under such conditions, and to leave the ground strewn with bones of men and moas, needed nothing less than some absolutely exceptional cause.

But, for all that Dr. Haast said, this occurred from time to time. Mr. W. Mantell was the first to establish this fact in the North Island,90 and his statements are amongst those that cannot be doubted. This talented and persevering explorer discovered in the Wanganui Valley small mounds covered with grass, which the natives declared were formed by the remains of their ancestors' feasts. In digging them out he found that they were composed of moa-bones, dogbones, and human bones mingled in confusion. All these bones had evidently suffered from the action of fire. Dr. Mantell (the father) tells us, moreover, that Mr. Taylor had come across similar mounds in the Whaingaehu Valley. These observations are not without corroboration. Mr. Thorne discovered in the northern part of the North Island, at the Pataua River, near Whangarei, alongside of remains of ancient Maori ovens, a medley of shells, cinders, coals, and bones of seals,

[Footnote] (88.) Seventh proposition.

[Footnote] (89.) Loc. cit., Transactions, vol. viii., p. 74.

[Footnote] (90.) “These consisted of moas', dogs', and human bones promiscuously intermingled” (“On the Fossil Remains of Birds collected in Various Parts of New Zealand by Walter Mantell,” by G. Algernon Mantell, Esq., F.R.S.: “The Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society,” vol. iv., 1848, p. 234).

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fish, men, and moas, having evidently formed a native feast.91 Mr, Roberts also has found human bones mingled with moa-bones and cinders, close to stones which had evidently been used for the purpose of cooking them.92 Finally, Mr. Robson has made similar observations in the neighbourhood of Cape Campbell.93 Thus, contrary to the assumptions of Dr. Haast, the moa-hunters were cannibals.

[Footnote] (91.) “Notes on the Discovery of Moa and Moa-hunters' Remains at Pataua River, near Whangarei,” by G. Thorne (Transactions, vol. viii. p. 85, pl. iii.).

[Footnote] (92.) “Notes on some Ancient Aboriginal Caves near Wanganui,” by H. C. Field (Transactions, vol. ix., p. 220).

[Footnote] (93.) “Further Notes on Moa-remains,” by C. H. Robson (Transactions, &c., vol. ix., p. 279).