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Volume 30, 1897
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Art. II.—On Rock Pictographs* in South Canterbury.

[Read before the Otago Institute, 12th October, 1897.]

Plates I.–X.

Knowing that a number of painted rocks existed in the limestone district about Albury and the Opihi River, I was very pleased to accept the invitation of Mr. W. W. Smith, who knows the whole district thoroughly, and who offered to point out to me the chief localities in which the pictographs are found. Leaving Albury early in the morning, we drove about four miles to the homestead of the Albury Estate, over fine rolling downs, which have recently been acquired by the Government and cut up for the benefit of small farmers and settlers. Round the homestead are some well-grown plantations of Conifers and deciduous trees, which much improve the somewhat bleak look of the downs. At the homestead we enter the valley of the Tengawai, and pass under a bold limestone scarp, which gradually narrows in the valley until it enters the hills at the Tengawai Gorge, a piece of wild and picturesque scenery, with a little native bush still remaining in the gorge. The first cave we visited was about 100 ft. up the limestone face of the cliff, and was entirely concealed by the native shrubs growing on the table slope below and in front of it. The cave was very small, not the size of an ordinary room, but it faced the sun, and no doubt was a favourite resting-place. Mr. Smith had seen the cave about ten years ago, and was, in fact, its discoverer, as, although so close to the homestead, it was not known to any one there. He says that at that time the figures covered the walls, and were particularly brilliant, mostly in red, some in black. At the present time the figures are not distinct, the walls having an appearance as if they had been smoked or blackened, possibly from the growth of fungus from the bushes in front, or from an Alga.

I copied three of the figures still to be made out. The floor of this cave did not seem to promise any result, so we went on up the valley. The huge masses of limestone which have become detached from the cliffs by denudation have rolled to the base of the cliff, and assume all sorts of fantastic shapes. About a quarter of a mile from the first cave is a very large shelter-cave capable of holding sixty or seventy people. The floor and the roof have a downward

[Footnote] * Probably “petroglyphs” would be a better word.

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slope, but the situation is warm and dry. The roof of this cave is covered with a number of pictographs, some of which were copied. The cave is close to a hut, and has been used by station hands for many purposes. The floor consisted of a very fine reddish clay in a state of fine dust. On putting a section trench through it a layer of cut tussock-grass largely intermixed with birds' feathers (as at the Takiroa Cave, on the Waitaki) was exposed. The birds represented were New Zealand quail (for many years quite extinct), weka (Ocydromus), paroquet, and pigeon. No quail-bones were obtained, but several fragments of moa-bone, and a great quantity of moa-egg shell. The layer was about 8 in. thick, and about 3 in. or 4 in. from the surface; underneath was limestone-sand, in the upper part of which was a quantity of moa-egg shell. Owing to the difficulty of working the very dusty material, and the disturbed state of the rest of the floor, we did not finish the whole area. The talus slope in front of the cave was also very stony, and we did not examine it.

At the head of the valley, about half a mile further, just at the entrance to the gorge, is a huge mass of limestone which has rolled some little distance on to the flat. A small portion of this, on the sunny side, forms an overhanging shelter, which, with a few manuka screens, might be made habitable. There was evidence that this had been the case, as when the loose sand and stones had been removed from the floor a thin layer of black burnt earth was seen. A trench 1 ft. wide was cut from the rock outwards for about 20 ft., and then all traces of the burnt earth were lost. The depth of the black layer was only a few inches; close to the rock, and scarcely traceable for any distance beneath, was the untouched limestone. Many places in the shelter itself were painted, and one group in particular was very vivid. At the ground-level there was a long red snake-like figure, resembling one at the Waitaki, apparently entering into or issuing from the furthest angle of the cave. Many of the smaller cavities weathered out in the limestone had small paintings in them, and numbers were almost entirely perished. I photographed and sketched all that were visible. Just at the entrance to the gorge, a few hundred yards beyond the rock, ploughing operations disclosed the sites of several cooking-places. From the trench across the floor of the shelter were taken two bird-bones sharpened to a fine point, a flake of quartzite, several pieces of moa-bone (Pachyornis?), shells of the river-mussel, fragments of Haliotis shell, some small smooth beach-pebbles, part of the jaw of a dog cut into a hooked shape, and several stones burnt with fire.

Returning to Albury, we left early the next morning for the Opihi River, crossing the range of hills known as “The

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Brothers.” On reaching the watershed we followed down the Totara Creek until we again struck the limestone near its junction with the Opihi. The first place examined was by the side of the road, and was a good specimen of a long sheltercave, the limestone projecting forward several feet, giving ample room to walk under it. For about 40 ft. or 50 ft. the wall and roof showed traces of ancient paintings, but were nearly obliterated and much disfigured by passers-by. A number of these were sketched. Prominent amongst them is a huge taniwha with open mouth, in front of which is a three-armed scroll of apparently meaningless design. I have, however, since seen the pictographs figured by Dr. Von Haast,* and recognise my figure as part of his No. 29, which is plainly a human figure escaping from a taniwha. There are several interesting figures in this shelter, and many of them are carefully drawn with three pointed extremities. A similar shelter a little further down the valley has been destroyed recently in getting limestone. It is said to have contained similar designs. The floors of both of these shelters were tried, but nothing beyond a shallow layer of black burnt earth and a number of the shells of the river-mussel were found.

Proceeding to the north and east, we soon reached the wide bed of the Opihi, which here flows between high limestone cliffs about a mile apart. Following down the right-hand bank, or south side, we carefully examined all the likely-looking places for caves and pictographs. In a very small cave there was a well-painted figure of a shark with open mouth; in another was the name “Kotaraki,” printed in the form of Roman capitals, adopted by the early scholars of the Maori race, and which is quite distinct from any European's writing or printing. We afterwards saw Maori names written in hundreds in the caves and shelters, and found no difficulty in distinguishing them from the modern European names and writings found on the walls of the shelter.

The particular cave we were looking for we passed by, but, being directed by a local resident, we turned up a small creek for a short distance amongst the hills, and found a whole series of pictographs of great interest, and in very good preservation, owing probably to their remoteness from the general track up the river-bed. The largest cave was of considerable size, some of the designs on the roof being 6 ft. long. It is used at present by cattle as a shelter. It lies on the sunny side of the creek, some distance above the water. In order to see the designs painted on the roof it was necessary to lie on the sloping floor, and then the patterns became plainly visible.

[Footnote] * Journ. Anthrop. Inst., Aug., 1878.

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In all cases we found that after being in the cave some few minutes the eye became accustomed to the light, and figures could be discerned which were not to be recognised at first. It was not possible to photograph the elaborate designs found here, so I made as careful a drawing as I could under the circumstances. In addition to the two colours—red and black—some of the figures were scratched round with white lines, probably done with a soft piece of the limestone-rock. A number of Maori names, such as “Riwa,” were painted on suitable places on the rocks in this gully. There was a figure of an ordinary mere on one of the rocks. This group of pictographs is probably the one which Canon Stack tried to see in 1875.*

We crossed over the river by direction of our new guide, and visited the large rock-shelter on the north bank of the river, known locally as “Noah's Ark.” It is about 200 yards long, and partly protected by a dense growth of the small shrub common on river-beds. As Canon Stack says, the entire surface of the rock is covered with pictographs, unfortunately much perished and defaced. Much of the damage to those within reach has been done by picnic parties, and the modern parties of Maoris when camped there eeling; but far above, out of reach, there still remain several fine specimens. One very characteristic figure is about 2 ft. long, and drawn on the white face of the cliff at least 20 ft. above the ground. There are a number of almost obliterated figures of great interest which can yet be made out by careful study when the sun is in the proper position. The figure mentioned by Canon Stack still exists in the condition he described twenty years ago. Its height above the ground, 14 ft., has probably preserved it from the assaults of parasols and penknives. The floor of the Noah's Ark shelter seems to have been swept out by the river since the paintings were made, and we could find no remains of any kind near the rock.

Proceeding down the river, we crossed to the other side, and found a curious rock-shelter near the top of a huge limestone bluff. The roof or upper portion of the cliff projected over perhaps 20 ft., and was perhaps 80 ft. or 100 ft. from the present bed of the river. The roof could be easily seen from below, and was painted with several figures, about a dozen of one kind (see Plate X.). At the time the cave was inhabited a long talus slope probably sloped down to the river-bed. This has all been removed by the river, together with the floor of the cave, so that it is now inaccessible from the river-bed, and had a deep water-hole at the foot. This appeared to be the last outcrop of the limestone as far as we

[Footnote] * See A pp. No. 2 to Dr. Von Haast's paper, l.c.

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could see to the east, and so we turned back, examining several small shelters up a tributary creek, on the north bank of the river. Under one rock we found the outline of a stone axe, very well drawn in red paint, about 16 in. long, and a few other solitary marks.

On my return the next day I wanted to examine a cave near the Cave Station, close to Timaru, but was unable to do so. I believe there are some pictographs in it. The execution of the paintings, on the whole, is not so careful or so striking as those at Takiroa, but those in the Opihi have been much defaced, especially those in the more exposed rock-shelters. I see no reason to doubt that the majority of the red and many of the black pictographs are genuine works of the natives inhabiting this part prior to the arrival of Europeans. The character of the designs is thoroughly consistent throughout the whole area. I have no doubt that a careful and special search would bring to light many more shelters and caves, and that it will be found that the same figures will occur in different localities. Any one familiar with the pictographs in other parts of the world will have little difficulty in deciding on the genuine character of the great bulk of the designs.

Fig. 1, Plate VII., and fig. 6, Plate IV., are almost facsimiles of a figure published in the “Journal of the Anthropological Institute” amongst the marks made on a document by chiefs of Easter Island in 1770. This is the only mark like a totem or symbol, the other marks on the document being more like alphabetic characters.*

Again, in Flinders Island, a remote islet off the coast of Australia, there are numerous pictographs of animal forms, and one, a large lizard-like monster with open jaws, resembles some of our figures in having a great expansion in the body with a figure of a man in it, probably representing a person swallowed by the monster, as in fig. 11, Plate VIII., and as seen in some unpublished figures at the Takiroa Cave.

[Footnote] * Journ. Anthrop. Inst., vol. iii., pl. xxvii., p. 528.

[Footnote] † Discovered in 1821 by Mr. Cunningham, of the “Beagle” (see King's “Australia,” vol. ii., p. 25, and “The Cruise of the ‘Alert,”’ p. 192).

[Footnote] ‡ The same subject is represented in a Haida pictograph, published in Report of Nat. Museum, Washington, 1888, Niblack (pl. iv., and page 323), representing Skana the Orka, or whale-killer. The Chilkat and other tribes of Alaska carve figures of salmon, inside of which is the full length figure of an Indian. The allegory is of undoubtedly ancient origin and not a version of Jonah. The numerous parallels between the ethnology of the Haidas and the Maoris require careful examination.

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Fig. 6, Plate I., seems to be a fair representation of a king penguin. We know that king penguins occasionally come as far north as Timaru, or, at any rate, Dunedin, as their bones are found in the camps and middens.

Fig. 2, Plate II., is, I think, meant for a seal. Fig. 6, Plate III., is, I believe, meant to represent a man dancing, but to many it appears to be a frog. The only frog found in New Zealand as endemic is a small species (Leiopelma) in the Coromandel district. The Tuhoe people, in the North Island, have on their carvings a ngarara, known as “moko-tapiri” or “moko-papa”; it is just like a frog. They say, however, it is found in holes in trees.

Several greenstone ornaments for the neck or ear have been found in Otago, shaped like the anthropomorphs in Plate VIII., figs. 8 and 9; Plate IX., fig. 2; and Plate X., fig. 3. The lines in Plate VII., fig. 4, are probably part of the ornamentation of a large fish like fig. 5, Plate IX. The curious figures in black on Plate V., fig. 3, and Plate VI., fig. 6, are on the smoky roof of a cave, and it is very difficult to draw them properly. A large looking-glass placed on the floor of the cave would probably enable them to be copied with more ease and accuracy. The details are minutely drawn in the original, especially the curious curves representing the thumbs. The enlargement of the backbone on the centre is probably similar in motive to the instances previously noted of the included man.