Art. LXVIII.—On Two Bone Pendants found in the South Island of New Zealand.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 12th July, 1892.]
At the mouth of the Shag River, on the east coast of Otago, are the remains of middens or refuse-heaps of great size, and probably of great age. The contents of these middens have been partly described in papers laid before the Institute,* and a general idea of their contents given. The ridge of sandhills stretching northward across the mouth of the valley was formerly covered by the dwellings of those who have from time to time lived at this spot. Now, the wind shifting the sand from place to place often exposes the long-buried relics of the vanished race. Mr. James Meredith, of Palmerston, one day picked up on these sandhills the piece of carved bone shown in Plate LIII., fig. 1, and since then it has passed into my collection. The ornamental character of the relic is at once apparent, and it is also evident that great skill, as well as labour and patience, was required to carve it from the solid and dense whale's bone of which it is made. The extreme length is 130mm.; the width at the top, without the ornamental border, 28mm.; width at the centre, including the borders, 40mm.; the thickness, including the ornamental ridge, is 14mm.; the height of the central ridge, 5mm.
The base of the thin ornamental ridge in the centre shows that the ridge was first worked down to the proper thickness, and that then the cut-out portion was started by boring small regular holes from the right side of the object to the left. They do not appear to have been drilled from both sides as usual, probably on account of the thinness of the piece to be cut. The centre ridge and the side ridges, or borders, were finely notched or crenulated on the outside edges.
Enough of the side-borders remains to show that they extended down the whole of each side to the pointed lower end, which takes a sharp turn upwards, much increasing the difficulty of manufacture. The lower part shows signs of wear, and the polished condition of some of the lower fractures indicates that these had occurred before the object was lost or
[Footnote] * Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. iv., p. 66 (Von Haast). Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. viii., p. 103 (Hutton).
buried. A well-drilled hole at the top enables this beautiful pendant to be suspended.
The centre ridge commences 11mm. from the top edge, just giving room for the hole for suspension.
The character of this pendant is so different from those generally used as ornaments by the Maoris that I might have hesitated to bring it forward if I had not been able, through the kindness of the Director of the Colonial Museum, to accompany it with a figure of a pendant (Pl. LIII., fig. 2) almost exactly similar found by Mr. Robson near Cape Campbell, and sketched by me, as an illustration to Mr. Robson's paper, in the Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. ix., pl. vi., p. 280.
This specimen is 88mm. long, and about 20mm. in width. The pattern cut is exactly the same, but the work is a little more rounded than in the larger example, and there is no central ridge, nor any denticulation of the edges.
There is the same upward curving of the narrowed lower part, and the hole at the upper end for suspension. There is a slight groove or depression in the centre, near the top, at the widest part.
The curious curve of the lower end suggests at once a comparison with the stone pendant figured by the late Mr. John White in Vol. iii. of the “Ancient History of the Maori,” p. 192. This has a triangular section, and the front angle has on it a number of notches, which, Mr. White states, were marks for genealogical purposes, and used in the same way as the whakapapas or carved staves. I have given an outline-figure of this pendant (Plate LIII., fig. 3), with sections (figs. 7 and 8), from a cast of the original. It will be seen by section b, fig. 8, that the upcurved point is strongly channelled, like a gouge. I also notice very evident knobs or horns on the head of the face at the top. It is interesting to note that, although this form of pendant is evidently very rare and of a peculiar style of art, it is exactly matched by a fragment picked up by Captain G. Mair near Cape Kidnappers, in Hawke's Bay (fig. 4). I do not know of what material the one figured by Mr. White is made, but the Kidnappers specimen was of a very hard white-and-red porphyritic stone.
It is difficult to suggest an explanation of the actual meaning of the shape of these pendants; we may, however, be sure that there originally was a deep significance in their strange forms. Comparisons may be made with the long greenstone eardrop, sharply curved at the base, common in the North Island but not seen in the South, and with the palaoa, or curved ornament worn on the breast in some of the Pacific islands. It is impossible not to notice the resemblance between the bone pendants and the sacrum of a bird. We are told that the sacrum derived its name from being the part of
the victim devoted to the gods in a sacrifice. May not these objects be a flicker of some old superstition which has been preserved in this idealised form?
Moseley, in his book, “Notes of a Naturalist on the ‘Challenger,”' p. 504, figures one of the hook-shaped ornaments worn by the Hawaiians, which has, however, little actual resemblance to our specimens. Cook, in his Third Voyage, vol. ii., p. 232, says, “The Hawaiians fix [on their necklaces] a small bit of wood, or stone, or shell, about 2in. long, with a broad hook turning forwards at its lowest part, well polished,” Captain King, in the same work, vol. iii., p. 135, says, “Both sexes wear necklaces …. and an ornament in the form of the handle of a cup, about 2in. long and ½in. broad, made of wood, stone, or ivory, finely polished, which is hung about the neck by fine threads of twisted hair, doubled sometimes a hundredfold. Instead of this ornament, some of them wore on their breast a small human figure made of bone, suspended in the same manner.”
Explanation of Plate LIII.
Fig. 1. Carved bone pendant found at Shag Point, Otago.
Fig. 2. Carved bone pendant found near Cape Campbell (Colonial Museum).
Fig. 3. Side view of stone pendant figured in “Ancient History of the Maori,” vol. iii., p. 192.
Fig. 4. Fragment of similar stone pendant found at Matarau, near Cape Kidnappers, Hawke's Bay, by Captain Mair (from a rough cast).
Fig. 5. Side-view of No. 1: full size.
Fig. 6. Side-view of No. 2.
Fig. 7. Section of No. 3 at a.
Fig. 8. Section of No. 3 at b.
Fig. 9. Section across the middle of No. 1.
Fig. 10. Section across the middle of No. 2.