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Volume 33, 1900
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Art. LII.—On Ancient Maori Relics from Canterbury, New Zealand.

[Read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, 27th February, 1901.]

Plate XVI.

Having devoted much time during the last eighteen years to visiting and exploring old encampments and rude dwellings of the ancient Maori in the South Island, I would lay before the members of the Philosophical Institute some observations on stone implements and other ancient relics of the Te Rapawai, Waitaha, and Ngatimamoe Tribes, now extinct.

The numerous discoveries during the first fifty years of English settlement in Canterbury of many valuable relics of long ago have also furnished much valuable evidence of the habits of these vanished peoples. Although remnants of ancient pas, hunting encampments, and other rude habitations of the ancient Maori occur in the South Island * from

[Footnote] * Vide paper by Joshua Rutland “On the Ancient Pit-dwellings of the Pelorus Sound District, South Island, New Zealand” (Journal of the Polynesian Society, vol. vi., p. 77).

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Pelorus Sound to the Bluff, Canterbury unquestionably supported the largest population. The area would be chosen by the extinct tribes, like their destroyers the Ngaitahn, as being more easily accessible, and as yielding a greater supply of marine and fresh-water fish, together with land-birds, including the extinct moas, forest products, and fern-root.

We are now living in an important period, when all data respecting these interesting relics of an ancient past in these islands should be carefully collected and accurately recorded. When the old pioneer settlers of the plains have all passed away, leaving those treasures behind them which they found when they ploughed the virgin soil; when the original features of the plains shall have wholly changed, and perhaps the aboriginal inhabitants—the noble Maori—shall have vanished, they will then be cherished as being among the most valuable possessions of the New Zealand museums. It is very regrettable that the numerous specimens of ancient stone implements and other valuable articles now in the possession of the settlers cannot be brought together to form a South Island collection, “for the good,” as Captain Hutton expressed it to me, “of those who are to come after us.” From the forms of the implements, the various materials they are made of, and the localities where they were discovered, we are able to form an accurate opinion of the economy and habits of their aboriginal owners

Amongst the stone implements* I have collected there are some curious types or forms not represented in the Canterbury Museum collection. They comprise both rude and polished implements of very varied forms, while they are made from a variety of rocks occurring in widely separated districts in the South Island. I have also examined numerous and, in some instances, unique specimens now in the possession of many of the older settlers, by whom they are much prized. In every case I have been permitted to photograph or sketch them, and figures of some are shown on Plate XVI. As many sites of the ancient encampments and other rude dwellings of the extinct tribes are rapidly disappearing before the advancement of agriculture, I will refer only to those which I have visited and examined.

To all interested in the history of bygone tribes of the Maori in the South Island there is invariably great pleasure in carefully exploring old encampments and collecting every remnant to be found in their vicinity. The painted rockshelters and caves in the limestone rocks at Weka Pass, Opihi, Albury, and Maerewhenua, in North Otago, have

[Footnote] * Now placed permanently in the Maori house of the Canterbury Museum.

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yielded few relics excepting charred bones of the moas and other birds, together with bones of the extinct native rat and dog. At the present time, however, no perfect exploration of the floors of these rude dwellings has been made. About 90 per cent. of the valuable stone implements, weapons, and other articles used by the prehistoric Maori have been ploughed up on the open plains, also on the lower downs, and in the smaller valleys near the base of the ranges.* As they have been found in every district in Ashburton County, there can be no doubt but that Canterbury was formerly occupied by a large Maori population. At the mouths of the larger rivers of the plains umus, or Maori ovens, of different ages were formerly very abundant, but have nearly all been obliterated by the plough or hidden under the dense growth of English grasses. Along the base of the ranges between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers innumerable old ovens were discovered by the early settlers when ploughing the tussock land, while several ancient encampments still remain in the district unexplored. A large number of both perfect and broken stone implements, rude and polished, of great age and manufactured from various rocks occurring in the neighbourhood and from the valued greenstone of the West Coast, have also been discovered there. The forest and fern clad country between the two great glacier rivers afforded a great supply of food to the prehistoric Maori. Until about fifteen years ago the magnificent primeval forest at Springburn was teeming with pigeons and parrots and other bush-birds, while in the swamps ducks, swamp-hens, and wekas abounded. Mr. Donald McKenzie has preserved on his property at Stavely a solitary grand old black-pine (Podocarpus spicata), which the Maoris of Little River assert was tabooed in olden times by the chiefs of Ngatimamoe, and later by those of Ngaitahu, when on their annual rat-trapping, pigeon-spearing, and bird-snaring excursions to the district from old Kaiapohia. Unfortunately, the charming old forest is now disappearing rapidly, and with it also the old haunts and traces of the ancient Maori.

The area of primeval forest existing at Little River, south of Banks Peninsula, fifty years ago was all that remained—excepting a small area at Riccarton—of an extensive forest, formerly extending thirty-five miles south of the peninsula around Lake Waihora (Ellesmere) on the plains side, and inland for fifteen miles. In much of the heavy swampy land

[Footnote] * The admirably arranged collection in the Canterbury Museum contains several axes and adzes, found in the South Island, identical in form and manufactured from the same material as are several in the Auckland and Wellington Museums. Possibly some of them may have been brought hither during the several migrations from the North Island during the last few centuries.

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the first colonists, when ploughing and clearing it, found large quantities of buried charred trunks of several species of native forest-trees of considerable dimensions. They comprise totara (Podocarpus totara), black-pine (P. spicata), miro (P. ferruginea), white-pine (P. dacrydioides), manuka (Leptospermum scoparium), broadleaf (Griselinea littoralis), and several other species. An upright trunk of white-pine still exists on Mr. G. Jameson's property, three miles inland from Lake Ellesmere. Large roots and trunks of these indigenous forest-trees are also at the present time dug out of the old extensive swamp formerly extending from near the Ashburton River to south of the Hinds, a distance of fourteen miles. An area of the same old fallen forest exists several miles seawards of Winchester, eighteen miles south of Hinds, where men are annually employed by contract raising the fallen trunks and disposing of them to the settlers for firewood. In these three areas many stone and wooden implements, together with valuable kumetes, or food-bowls, and other ruder relics of barbaric times, have been ploughed or dug out by the settlers within the last thirty years. The implements, of many forms and qualities, and other native utensils belonging to extinct tribes found on or near the sites of the burned or buried forests,* or in ancient forests still flourishing, were probably lost or mislaid by their owners while hunting.

Several discoveries of various numbers of stone adzes, axes, and fish-knives found hidden together in the soil have been made in Ashburton County since the beginning of English settlement forty-five years ago. Mr. M. McCormick, an old bachelor settler in the early days, found “about half a barrow-load” of stone implements hidden in a cache on his land. Stone being then scarce on the richer land of the plains, he built his rude fireplace with them, excepting one of the form marked E on Plate XVI., which he still retains. An examination of fragments of these burned stone axes shows some of them to have been only rudely flaked into shape, while others were semi-polished, and all manufactured from several varieties of basalt.

Among the more valuable old Maori relics unearthed from the sites of the vanished forests of the plains is the boat-like kumete, or food-bowl (2), now in the possession of Mr. James Bishop, of Wheatstone, near Ashburton. The polished fernbeater (6) of a fine quality of black basalt, and the greenstone chisel (10) or knife, with a long cutting edge, together with

[Footnote] * In referring to these areas as “buried forest” it only implies that the numerous trunks, after being charred in a growing position, were subsequently blown down and submerged in the swampy land where they grew. The timber of many of them is still in a remarkably sound condition.

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several other different implements, were also ploughed up by Mr. Bishop on his property. The fern-beater is now in the possession of Mr. A. W. Beaven, of Christchurch, who readily permitted me to have it photographed. The kumete is carved out of miro-pine, and measures in length 15 in., breadth 8 in., depth 8 in. Although somewhat injured, it is an admirable specimen of Ngatimamoe handicraft.

As already stated, the country on the upper parts of the Canterbury Plains between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers was formerly populated by the extinct Ngatimamoe and preceding tribes. During the progress of settlement many stone implements have been found throughout the area. The perfectly finished argillite chisel (8) was found at Mayfield by Mr. Kellahan, jun. Mr. G. L. Twentyman also found at Mayfield a curious narrow adze made from the casing of the greenstone. Ten years ago Mr. John Hood, of Mount Somers, showed me two large axes, one of basalt the other of Mount Somers sandstone, found on his property. Mr. Price, sen., gave me several broken implements of basalt which he discovered on the site of an unexplored old Maori encampment at Mount Somers. Several other valuable stone tools of great age have also been discovered at Mount Somers, but these I have not seen. Two years ago an interesting discovery was made on Mrs. Campbell's farm, a few miles below Mount Somers. It consisted of nine finely finished fish-knives, all of one size and shape. Six were flaked from the same block of argillite, and three from a reddish-yellow chert. They were the finest knives of their class I have seen. But, unfortunately, before I visited Mrs. Campbell to see them the children had destroyed them all except two, one of which is now in the Canterbury Museum. Mrs. Joli, of Springburn, six miles north of Mount Somers, possesses two finely polished broad-faced tools—an adze and an axe—of one size, found in the bush, flaked from a block of beautifully mottled greenstone. The Rev. Mr. Westbrook, F.G.S., found a broken greenstone chisel lying exposed on the limestone rock in the gorge of the Ashburton River. I have heard of several other valuable implements having been found in the Springburn district, some of them now being in Mr. Muirhead's possession, but I have not examined them. Many more will probably be discovered when the old encampments are explored, and as settlement advances.

During the formation of new roads twenty years ago at the old Spread Eagle, on the North Ashburton Stream, some large stone implements were ploughed up by the contractors, and were left lying on the side of the newly formed road. A workman employed on the work informed me that there were “seven or eight of them,” and that they were all “rough,

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large axes made of bluestone,” or bluish basalt, I presume, which is common at the ranges fifteen miles from Spread Eagle and in the river-bed near where they were found.

Two years ago the Ashburton Borough foreman, while forming a new street, ploughed up a large semi-polished sand-stone axe (A) with a small piece of the top broken off. On the south side, but in the vicinity of the river, several variously shaped old implements have been found during the progress of settlement.

Mrs. Buckley, of Lagmhor, possesses a fine old, though somewhat worn, broad-faced Ngatimamoe adze of greenstone, found thirty years ago near the Lagmhor Creek, a perennial stream crossing the plains through the Lagmhor Estate.

Four years ago Mr. Thomas Rattray found a wooden fern-beater (9) on the Ashburton River bed, which he generously added to my collection. The broad-faced polished greenstone axe (3) and the small beautifully finished mottled-chert adze (5) were ploughed up at the mouth of the river by Mr. J. McCoskery and by Mr. J. Trevurza in Wakanui respectively. The block of bowenite (1), showing method of cutting out implements, was found by Mr. Jackman, of Willoughby, at the mouth of the Rangitata River four years ago. Bowenite is a paler and softer variety of jade, and was not so much used by the extinct South Island Maoris as the darker and harder varieties of greenstone. The small, narrow, but perfectly formed and polished adze (4) is made of a rare and beautiful greenstone, and is the only specimen of its class I have seen in any collection. It was ploughed up, along with a large tomahawk, at Arowhenua, South Canterbury, twelve years ago by Mr. R. Brown, now of Longbeach. The small, thin greenstone chisel (7) was ploughed up by a farmer at Pendarves, near Ashburton, and purchased for me by Mr. R. Murray, watchmaker. The large roughly chipped axe (F) was ploughed up on the site of the buried forest near the River Hinds, and sent to me by Mr. John Price. This form of stone axe, of very dark basalt, with a polished edge only, is rare, and of great age. The series on Plate XVI. (lettered) illustrate several transitional forms in use among the older pioneer tribes of Murihuku. The finely finished axe (12) was found near one of the painted rock-shelters at Albury, and evidently had been very little used. I have recently received a neatly finished chisel of dark argillite from Mr. F. Baitchelor, of Albury, who found it a few miles distant from the painted rocks. When at Albury last I examined a large rough adze of basalt, also found on the Opawa River bed near the village.

When on a visit with Mr. A. Hamilton to Albury and the Opihi Valley four years ago, for the purpose of sketching

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the Ngatimamoe paintings* on the limestone-rock shelters, Mr. Edwin Ley showed us, at his home on the Opihi River, some broken greenstone chisels which he had found in the valley. They were of the same finely mottled jade as the two described belonging to Mrs. Joli, of Springburn. Many more stone implements of different types have been discovered at Kakahu and on the Waitohi Downs within the last twenty years. In the latter district some years ago a party of contractors, in cutting through a small hill, discovered a valuable Maori mere of pure nephrite, to which the Maoris of Temuka laid claim as a long-lost tribal heirloom. At the present time it is in the possession of a private gentleman at Temuka. The innumerable Maori ovens exposed by the plough throughout the Albury, Kakahu, Waitohi, Opihi, and Waimate districts, when breaking up the land in the early days of settlement, show the country named to have been occupied by a considerable Maori population in former ages. There is no question but that they were for centuries nomadic, and chiefly depended on fishing and hunting for their sustenance. Their stone implements also underwent great modification, both in form and finish and in the use of better materials for their manufacture. The Maoris of New Zealand may safely claim the honour of having manufactured a greater variety of forms of stone tools and weapons from a greater variety of materials than any other race of people during the Stone Age in any part of the world.

The Rev. Canon Stack, in his “History of the South Island Maoris,” in computing the respective periods of occupation of the South Island by the extinct tribes, assigns Waitaha from 1477 to 1577. In his “Kaiapohia” he also states that the great forests formerly covering the Canterbury Plains were destroyed during the occupation of the South Island by Waitaha. We have unmistakable evidence of the former existence of extensive areas of forest of great age on the plains. I have also shown that numerous stone tools and other native utensils have been found on all their sites throughout Canterbury. Implements rude, semi-polished, and perfectly polished, of basalt, argillite, sandstone, ironstone, chert, and greenstone of several qualities, have been found associated together on the sites of these ancient forests. The circumstances under which they have been discovered by many of the early settlers supply conclusive evidence that greenstone was known to the Te Rapuwai and Waitaha long before the advent of Ngatimamoe to the South Island. They unquestionably used greenstone tools, but of more imperfect forms and quality than those subsequently used by Ngatimamoe and Ngaitahu. No

[Footnote] *Trans. N.Z. Inst., 1896.

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greenstone meres have ever been found associated with their implements. The large finely formed and polished meres of nephrite and various qualities of jade were undoubtedly manufactured and first used by Ngaitahu, who greatly improved the form and quality of their implements, especially the mere and the kapu, since their advent to the South Island.

I have lately examined three large somewhat thin and blunted chisels of ironstone, found near Hinds by Mr. R. Moore of Longbeach. They are semi-polished and of great age, and evidently had been discarded by their owner. The four implements (E, D, G, H) were discovered together on the site of the buried forest at Doyleston, and procured for me by Mr. J. McLachlan, M.H.R. D is of an inferior greenstone, much worn and semi-polished. G and H are of two varieties of dark fine-grained basalt, also semi-polished and much worn. E is of a rough-grained bluish basalt in fine condition, and evidently had been very little used.

Large blocks of greenstone were found three years ago at the mouth of the Rangitata, showing several adzes in situ in process of cutting. Unfortunately, the ploughmen broke them in pieces to obtain each a piece of the beautiful jade.

But the most valuable relic of Ngaitahu ever found on the plains is a large mere of almost transparent nephrite, which was ploughed up, on poor land near Waterton, by a farmer in whose possession it now remains.

When time permits I hope, in the future, to add to the foregoing somewhat cursory record of discoveries of prehistoric relics of the extinct Maori tribes of the South Island.

It is regrettable that so little exploration is done among the old encampments and rock-shelters formerly tenanted by the extinct Maori tribes. Such work could not fail in adding greatly to our knowledge of the ethnology of the ancient Maori. There are also many extremely interesting features in the traditions of the South Island natives. Further research on the lines I have suggested would probably decide the question as to whether or not the ancient forests of the Canterbury Plains were destroyed by the traditional “great fire of Tamatea,” or at what period they were destroyed. Apart from all traditions, ethnologists admit that the Maoris were the noblest and most enlightened race that ever lived during the Stone Age in any country in the world.