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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

The Mounds of Human Refuse in New Zealand point — back Thousands of Years

The Mounds of Human Refuse in New Zealand point
back Thousands of Years

(16) When we turn to the relics of ancient habitation, we have first of all, as on the coasts of most countries in the world, great shell-mounds, or, as they were called, when first studied on the coasts of Denmark, kitchen-middens, the refuse heaps of men who lived on sea-trove thousands of years ago. In New Zealand they are not only numerous, but some of them extensive and high above the surrounding levels. Many page 239mounds or hills of considerable proportions are reported far inland, covered with trees of many centuries' growth. Of these some have been laid bare by cattle, whilst others have been sectioned by streams and rivers that have changed their course. But the majority are close to the coast. One of them at Shag Point, in Otago, was examined some years ago by Mr. Chapman (now Mr. Justice Chapman) and Mr. Hamilton (now director of the Colonial Museum, Wellington). And the latter reports that the layer above the bottom sand contained unbroken moa bones and dog bones, along with flints. The next layer that indicated human occupation had moa bones broken, evidently for their marrow. Above a third layer of sand came the final stratum, in which were many moas' necks, most with the skull attached. In these latter strata the implements encountered were more polished and neolithic. But a piece of greenstone was found in the lowest or most ancient layer.

(17) There is clear evidence here of intervalled occupation by people of different stages of culture, though all of them subsisting on the hunting of the moa, the most ancient on that of a feral dog likewise. Sir Julius von Haast, in his examination of an ancient encampment on the north bank of the River Rakaia, near its mouth, also found bones of dogs, but not a trace of any gnawing on any of the vast numbers of bones, whether avian, piscine, or mammalian; and this undoubtedly indicates that the dog was not domesticated, but hunted for its flesh. And in the legends of the band of ogres that preceded Te Rapuwai, the Polynesian immigrants of the early centuries of our era, the ogre of the Clutha Cave is represented as chasing the new-comers with a pack of ten two-headed dogs. Doubtless the hunted aboriginals, taking to the caves and forests, as "wild men," made friends with this wild and hunted denizen of the bush, thus taking the first step towards its domestication or page 240redomestication, just as the Australian aborigines half-tamed the dingo, and the two heads are the embroidery of the terrified imagination, like the giant stature and the league stride of the aboriginals at bay. This prehistoric feral dog was powerfully built, and of a size between the dingo and the fox, whilst its skull was shorter than it was broad. Now the edible dog of the Maori was domesticated, and left its traces on every bone about a pa. Crozet describes it as "a sort of domesticated fox, quite black or white, very low on the legs," "long body, full jaws, but more pointed than those of the fox." Its cry was the same as that of the fox, and not a bark. The distinction between the two types is quite clear.

(18) Another striking thing about these stratified remains of early man is the absence of human bones, an indication that cannibalism appeared in New Zealand after the disappearance of the moa and the feral dog, and cannot be attributed to the aboriginal or pre-Polynesian. It is in the period of Te Rapuwai, that is before the eighth century of our era, that legend places the extinction of the moa, and along with it is bracketed the destruction of the Otago and Canterbury forests by fire. The two events are doubtless closely connected, as we can see partly in the vast accumulation of the bones, and often complete skeletons, of all the various species of huge birds in the swamps and caves of Canterbury, and partly in the frequent heaps of gizzard pebbles found high up on the hillsides. The bush and its glades would form safe retreats for these gigantic birds from their avian and human enemies; when their cover vanished, the great raptorial birds of the heights, the bones of some of which have been found amongst those of their prey at Glenmark, would make short work of them on the open slopes of the mountains. The effect would be somewhat similar on their human enemies. Te Rapuwai, having suddenly to page 241change their food and their mode of life, would fall an easy prey to the new invaders, the Waitaha.

(19) We may assign the upper strata of the moa-hunting kitchen-middens to this pioneer of the Polynesians; in them the moa necks and heads are found. It is true that the whole of these mounds of debris are attributed to Te Rapuwai; but this probably only means that after that people the Waitaha abandoned them, and took to regular house-building and house-dwelling. The heads and necks were there, and not in the lower moa strata, probably because they would be needed as easily held outliers like the legs for carrying the carcases down to the beach; they doubtless mean that the prey had to be sought at longer distances. The unbroken bones of the lowest strata and the broken bones of the central strata indicate a reduction in the plentifulness of the game during the period of the latter, when the hunters had to go to the trouble of splitting the bones in order to add to their supplies. These mounds thus stratified imply many centuries, if not millenniums, in the formation, especially where they lie far inland; even if their position is not due to change of sea-level, the necessity of having to carry miles from the shore the products of the sea that are found in them would mean an enormously slower rate of increase of these shell-heaps than on the beach; and, though the palaeolithic and the neolithic implements are intermingled in all the stages of culture in New Zealand, the advance, in their polish, manifest in the mounds, implies long periods.