Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 32, 1899
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Art. XLIX.—A Maori Earthwork Fortification.

[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute.]

The site of this remarkable work is close to the small township of Herbertville, and to the south side of the Wainui River. A small but deep and sluggish stream here joins the river, and together they enclose a considerable semicircular space. This partly enclosed piece of ground would seem to have been selected by a party of Maoris as a place of refuge in times of danger, in case of an assault from others of their race with whom they had a blood-feud or vendetta.

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It is quite a novelty, I believe, to find that the Maori has defended a position by earthworks the present height of which would seem to indicate that they could never have been surmounted by a palisade of woodwork. As it now stands there is a double wall of earth, having an interval of about 12 ft. between the two walls, and also a broad dry ditch. The outer wall is almost or entirely perpendicular on both faces; it stands 5 ft. in height, and shows signs of a ditch along its outer face. It is now 45 yards in length. The inner and parallel wall is similar, but is 6 ft. in height and 39 yards in length. Neither wall shows much sign of decay, although they leave a considerable space (some 18 ft.) unprotected—from the ends of the walls to the encircling streams. It is possible the walls may have been here eroded in times of great floods, but it is difficult to understand how this could leave the ends of the walls so perfect in condition.

Parallel with the inner wall is a dry ditch, and beyond, but parallel to the ditch, are signs of small square holes, mostly at equal distances one from the other, the object of which I am unable to determine, although they are evidently a particular part of the plan of defence. Is it possible that they represented small pitfalls, by means of which the assaulting party, after negotiating the two walls, might lose their equiliorium? In the event of a warrior, say, landing with one foot on the level surface, the other foot would find no resting-place, and he would fall prone to the earth, and one of the besieged party would then without danger be in a position to crack his skull with a mere.

Within the enclosed space are no visible signs of habitation, but there are three small ill-defined pits, which may have been excavated to supply material wherewith to build a portion of the walls. At present the walls have a passage cut through their centre some 2 ½ft. in width. I asked an old resident as to this, and he was confident that when first he saw the walls, years ago, there was no such passage. However, I doubt if this be not the original entrance left by the builders, so as to enable cattle to pass, as they could not climb over a 6 ft. wall. At present men and animals can pass at either end of the walls, so that we may suppose this was a wicket-gate for entrance or exit, as the case might be. I was also told that this, and all round, was grown over by ngaio and karaka trees, some of which were 2 ft. in diameter; but nothing of any size can have grown on the walls or they would have been spoilt or broken down.