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Volume 25, 1892
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Art. LXIX.—Notes on Maori Necklaces.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 11th October, 1892.]

The Maoris, as seen by Captain Cook, the early voyagers, and missionaries, were not much in the habit of wearing elaborate necklaces; and we have no evidence of their caring for the beads and gewgaws which usually formed part of the tradegoods of the pioneers of civilisation. Hoop-iron and axes and weapons of a practical kind were the objects most in

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demand. Certainly, the wearing of an amulet or pendant, or sachet of sweet-scented gums, was constant and almost universal among both sexes; but the necklace of the northern continental areas, composed of beads, or perforated stones more or less elaborately shaped, was virtually unknown, and—which is rather strange—did not come into fashion with the adoption of European customs and habits. Even among the prehistoric races in Europe and America elaborate necklaces are usually found with human remains. This seems to have no parallel among the Maori people. The few specimens of old blueglass beads, some quite plain, others facetted, which have been found sparingly in Maori camps and pas in the North and South Islands, are no doubt part of the trade-goods of the earlier whalers, and were probably worn, a few together, as an ear-ornament.

In the middens and remains of villages in the southern part of the South Island are found relics which prove an exception to the rule, and are of considerable interest. In the collection of relics found by Mr. W. Mitchell in the neighbourhood of Lake Manapouri, there is a necklace nearly 2 yards long composed of the shells of a small dentalium, or tusk-shell. The shells composing it were found lying together, and amongst them a greenstone ornament, shaped like a conventional hook called a matau. Mr. John White, of Dunedin, has also a similar necklace in his collection.

In the encampment at the mouth of the Shag River, near Palmerston, I have dug out from the middens a number of the large fossil shells, Dentalium giganteum, brought there from the Waitaki, from which short cylinders were cut, and probably strung together for necklaces or ornaments.

In at least four collections in Otago there are numbers of miniature axes about lin. in length, made from a piece of a marine shell, ground to the shape of a stone axe, and pierced at the other end for suspension, not at right angles to the part corresponding to the edge, but in the same line with it. In one instance over a hundred of these, much burnt, were found in the ashes of an old house, all in a heap. Mr. F. R. Chapman exhibited a considerable number amongst his splendid collection of bone objects at the Dunedin Exhibition of 1890, and called attention in his catalogue to the curious instance given by Professor Boyd Dawkins, of the Bosnian peasants wearing necklaces of cornelian arrow-heads even at the present day. Mr. Chapman says in a note,* “May not these ornaments be looked upon as a survival from an ancient epoch, when the Maoris dwelt on an island in the Pacific where no stones for axes were procurable?”

[Footnote] * Official Cat. N.Z. and S.S. Exhib., 1889–90, p. 172.

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Altogether I must have seen about two or three hundred of these little shell axes, all of which are about the same size. Mr. T. W. Kirk (Trans. N.Z. Inst., xi., 539) notes the occurrence of bones cut in adze form.

I have another illustration. In a notice of a jet necklace discovered in a burial-mound* or tumulus in north Wiltshire, England, it is stated that one of the beads was in the form of a small stone axe of a short-triangular shape, “showing that the Britons sometimes made beads of this material (jet) resembling stone implements in miniature, just as the Scandinavians did in amber.” It is perhaps somewhat premature at present to insist on the matter, but I am of the opinion that these interesting relics will be found to have belonged to the autochthonic race or races of the South Island, and not to the later Maoris. There are many facts which support this view, the discussion of which must be left till another opportunity.

There are three other kinds of ornaments which we know were often worn in the ear, and which, in some cases at least, appear to have been worn in numbers round the neck—the one being human teeth, another the canines of dogs and seals, and the third the flat triangular teeth of the great blue shark, not the beautiful curved teeth of the mako of the North. These triangular teeth are frequently found with a neat hole bored at each of the basal angles, and sometimes with a third larger one in the middle of the base. At Warrington I found one of these teeth with both of the basal angles cut off, and one hole through the centre of the base. In some cases it is possible that these teeth may have belonged to the formidable wooden knives, set with sharks' teeth on each edge, occasionally seen in the early days. The specimens that I have seen had, however, the teeth of the Perlon shark (Notidanus).

Note.—Since this paper was read, I am informed by Mr. Chapman that an old Maori has recently seen the “shell axes,” and immediately recognised them as niho kakere, or shell teeth, and stated that they were worn as necklaces by women. On examining again the few specimens I myself possess, I find the distinction between the part bedded in the jaw and gum and the part exposed is slightly indicated.

[Footnote] * Archæologia, vol. xliii., p. 510, fig. 200.

[Footnote] † See also Nilsson, Stone Age, Engl. ed., p. 82, pl. ix., fig. 190; Worsaae, Afbildninger, p. 15, figs. 65,67; Madsen, Afbildninger, Fr. ed., Antiq, Préhistorique, pl. xv., xvi., fig. 19.