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The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand: Sportsman of the Stone Age

Moa-Bone Point Cave

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Moa-Bone Point Cave

In the year 1872 there was opened a chapter in Moa-hunter research which never has ceased to claim the attention of those engaged in the study of this fascinating subject. Simultaneously the public interest in this valuable contribution was considerably heightened by what might be called the “fortuitous circumstances” under which it first was brought to their notice. On the eastern fringe of the Canterbury Plains, near Sumner, there had long been known to exist a cave situated in a low spur of that large volcanic system, Banks Peninsula. The cave lies opposite the junction of two rivers, where

The Avon and the Heathcote glide
Like shining serpents on.

The mouth of the cave faces in a north-westerly direction. Because of the discovery there in 1850 page 51 by an officer of H.M.S. Acheron of a number of Moa bones, it was known to the settlers by the unpoetic name of Moa-bone Point Cave, but beyond that fact it excited little notice. It is true that in the first days of the Canterbury settlement, when primitive conditions prevailed, and necessity, as well as adversity, made strange bedfellows, it was inhabited for brief periods by some of the pioneer settlers, and later it sheltered lime-burners, fishermen, and road-menders, none of whom, in all probability, gave a thought to the dusky beings in whose long-forgotten footsteps they were following.

In the spring of 1872, however, the problems surrounding the advent and disappearance of the Moa were still a source of animated discussion, and the dynamic personality of Sir Julius von Haast was as a pinnacle about whose crown the storms of controversy seemed inevitably to accumulate.

In these circumstances Mr. Edward Jollie, a prominent Canterbury settler and explorer, suggested to Sir Julius that the systematic excavation of the cave at Sumner might yield results leading to definite conclusions and the resolving of many difficulties. Even if it did not achieve all that they hoped, it might throw such light upon the period of the Moa's extinction as to considerably enhance human knowledge upon the subject. The exploration of page 52 the extensive sand-dunes outside the cave, where the discovery of Moa bones had been made, might, it was thought, also supply additional evidence for the elucidation of many much-disputed points.

Sir Julius, while sharing Mr. Jollie's enthusiasm, felt bound to observe that neither the Canterbury Museum nor he, personally, had funds available for such an enterprise, and without a financial backing it could not be undertaken. Nothing daunted, Mr. Jollie prepared a subscription list, headed it himself, and in due course the sum of £32 10s was collected.

This was sufficient to employ two men* for seven weeks, and the ready permission of the property-owner, Mr. Alfred Claypon Wilson, having been secured, the work began on the 23rd September and ended on the 9th November, 1872.

Of the two “labourers” engaged, the leader was Mr. Alexander McKay, who subsequently became one of New Zealand's best-known and most original geologists. A Scotsman, as his name suggests, he was in several respects a somewhat remarkable man. He had been a gold-miner, as Hugh Miller had been

* These men thought they were passing rich on £2 per week. Ye gods, ye labourers of to-day!

Mr. McKay makes the date of commencement the 3rd October, but is in agreement with Sir Julius von Haast that the work occupied seven weeks.

page 53 a stonemason, becoming, as did his illustrious countryman, a keen observer of the material amongst which he worked. Sir Julius von Haast found him on a hillside, near the Ashley Gorge, driving a gallery upon a supposed coal-seam. The two men—the scientist and the miner—talked together, and, finding that his new acquaintance “appeared to be very fond of geology and to have a great thirst to learn something,” Sir Julius took him on to his staff, and the two worked with amity and mutual respect for the better part of two years.

Then the Moa-bone Point scheme of excavation was mooted, and when the necessary funds were available what more natural than that Alexander McKay should there find congenial employment, for by this time Sir Julius had proved him to be “zealous,” had been lending him books, and in other ways assisting him to perfect his knowledge of his chosen science.

A preliminary survey of the cave showed that it consisted of three chambers, each following the other in an almost straight line, and varying in size as they pierced into the heart of the rock. Of these three chambers the outer one was by far the largest, measuring 100 feet in length by 74 feet at its greatest width, varying in height from 12 feet to 25 feet. Its walls were almost vertical; but the page 54 roof was jagged, uneven, and insecure, due to masses of disintegrated material having through the course of thousands—perhaps millions—of years fallen to the floor below. The middle cave closely resembled the outer one, and was 16 feet in length, 14 feet in width, and not more than 10 feet in height. The third cavity, although it could be entered only with difficulty through a narrow opening little more than a rift in the rock, broadened out into a considerable chamber, 22 feet long, 16 feet in width, and about 20 feet in height, its floor of sand being about 8 feet above high-water mark.

At the entrance to the outer chamber there stood a huge rock, a fragment dislodged from the hill above, which considerably impeded, but at the same time sheltered, its only doorway. Towards the back of this chamber there lay another large stone, flat on the top, which in the gloom of its surroundings resembled somewhat the tomb of one of the “glorious dead” in the crypt of a cathedral.

The story of the cave as read in its geological environment begins at a time when the land-level was considerably lower than it is to-day. The sea was then washing over what is now dry land, and the action of the waves either eroded from between two compact seams of lava rock a large quantity of tuff which had been partially covered by one of page 55 the numerous volcanic eruptions responsible for the formation of Banks Peninsula, or, in the same way, the remorseless beating of the sea had enlarged one of the many air-bubbles so frequently found in a lava-stream running, generally, parallel to the direction of their flow.

The former view was favoured by Mr. McKay, the latter by Sir Julius von Haast, who has stated his case in these words:

In this instance there is no doubt that the Moa-bone Point Cave is a pre-existing hollow in a dolertic lava-stream, which has been enlarged by the enormous power of the dashing waves of the ocean beating here at one time furiously against the northern foot of the peninsula.

Thus, in post-Pliocene times, when the peninsula stood as an island in the sea, the cave was being sculptured by the restless waters of the Pacific scouring every vestige of soft material from its vertical walls, its rocky floor, and its spray-beaten roof. Then changes in the land-levels began to take place. Uncertain at first, they eventually settled down at an elevation of some 20 feet of vertical height above their former line. This brought about a time of greater quiet for the cave, which during the process was furnished with a floor of fine sand several feet deep. During this period of growing quiescence the raging river torrents coming down page 56 from “the glorious Alps, chill with an epoch's snow,” were transporting enormous quantities of debris from the mountains, spreading out in great shingle fans the material with which they were extending the Canterbury Plains. Slowly, through a chain of fresh-water lakes, of which Lake Ellesmere is the surviving remnant, this plain reached the western margin of the rocky island, whose fires had now subsided, transforming it into a picturesque peninsula, and preparing it for the reception of man.

Here again we are faced with the eternal problem of who were the first people to reach, and how they reached, this genial spot. All that we can say is that someone of undoubted Polynesian origin found it, and seeing the estuary of two meandering rivers, a sandy area of many acres, and a rocky cave near by, decided that here was a combination of amenities that warranted a better acquaintance. Accordingly the little community of Polynesian pilgrims decided to settle down, making the sand-dunes their home in fair weather and the cave their place of refuge in foul.

The first point of examination by Sir Julius and his staff was the large outer chamber of the cave, in which they subsequently found a depth of 12 feet of sand on top of the rocky floor, with a pronounced slope towards the entrance of the cave. It was page 57 from beneath this bed that they hoped to extract the evidence that would set their doubts at rest. Trenches were first dug at right angles along and across the floor, the sectors formed by these trenches being then in turn excavated and their contents collected and noted.
Side elevation

Side elevation

Ground plan Plan Of Moa-Bone Point Cave Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VII, plate I.

Ground plan
Plan Of Moa-Bone Point Cave
Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VII, plate I.

The upper stratum disclosed first the remains of European occupation; then came evidence of Maori occupation, a feature of which was the presence of page 58 many shells of molluscs of the same species as still inhabit the estuary of the Avon and the Heathcote Rivers. From this circumstance it was concluded that a Native population of some magnitude, living principally upon shell-fish, had occupied the respective chambers over a long period of time. Here were also found a number of Maori artifacts—wooden implements of Maori manufacture, plaitings of native flax, and a few pieces of polished stone implements—intermingled with pieces of Moa bone of several of the well-known species. Usually the leg-bones had been broken for the extraction of the marrow, some were calcined, and all of them occurred in the lowest area of the bed.

This, however, Sir Julius did not consider afforded conclusive evidence of occupation by the people who could be described as Moa-hunters.* To test an ever-active conviction that the proper stratum had not yet been reached, he decided to open up a lower bed of agglomeratic formation and try his fortune there, “and,” he says, “I was delighted to find, very soon, that this time my expectations were not doomed to disappointment.”

* Mr. H. D. Skinner, in the Records of Canterbury Museum, Vol. II, p. 102, suggests that, as Moa bones were collected by the Maori up to quite recent times for the purpose of securing material from which to manufacture fish-hooks and other artifacts, these bones probably were brought into the camp by its subsequent occupants for industrial purposes.

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After having passed through this bed, which was 6 inches in thickness, the workmen came upon an ash-bed at least 3 inches thick, in which there lay a number of Moa bones, some of them calcined, others, apparently unaffected by time or environment, belonging to the species Euryapteryx rheides and Meionornis didiformis,* These were accompanied by several pieces of charred wood, and were found at an approximate depth of 4 feet 10 inches from the surface.

Proceeding with the utmost care, some large stones were reached, covered with several inches of sand, some of them blackened and split by the action of fire, and placed in such a position as to show that evidently an oven had here been excavated in the sand, these stones, like the remains of the meal taken here, having probably been trampled repeatedly over, and before the ash and dirt beds had been deposited above them. In digging round this spot I obtained the upper mandible of Aptornis defossor in a fine state of preservation, and a quantity of Moa bones, also two wooden sticks made of pukatea (Athero-sperma novae-zealandiae) for producing fire. This simple apparatus, the only one found in the cave, has the peculiarity that fire, instead of being obtained by friction lengthwise, was procured by giving the

* These names are recorded according to Sir Julius von Haast's classification. For further information on this point see Appendix I.

Now Laurelia novae-zealandiae.

page 60 upper stick a turning motion.* However, I may add that this was not the only mode by which the Moa-hunting population obtained fire, as in the same lower beds fire-sticks of the other kind were also found, resembling in this respect those belonging to the upper or mollusc-eating population, which are used at the present time by the Maori, and are called kauwahi by them. About 4 feet from this oven we came across some large pieces of egg-shell, of which many had still the lining membrane attached, proving by their form of curvature that they were portions of a Dinonis egg of very large size.

All this served indubitably to convince Sir Julius that a race of Moa-hunters had at some time occupied this cave; and the farther he went the more convinced of this he became. Advancing into the cave, towards the middle chamber, he proceeded to explore roundabout the large piece of rock lying there—a fragment that had fallen from the roof—measuring 12 feet in length, 6 feet in breadth, and rising 10 feet in height, forming what Sir Julius regarded as “a remarkable feature in the cave.”

Here the searchers found a particularly rich spot, for “the artificial deposits soon became more

* Sir Julius von Haast probably obtained this information from Hone Taahu and Tamati Ngakahu, two East Coast Natives who at the time were engaged in carving a Maori house at the Canterbury Museum. Professor Hutton considers the description to be incorrect, and Mr. H. D. Skinner remarks, “If this description were accurate we would have to admit that in at least one important cultural feature the Moa-hunters differed from the Maori.”

page 61 considerable and full of interest.” In the lowest beds they obtained a large number of Moa bones, relics of at least six different species, the most prominently represented being Meionornis didiformis, some of these bones indicating that the slaughtered birds had not yet reached maturity. These were mixed with unconsidered trifles, such as the bones of the native dog, shags, and penguins, all of which had been used to strengthen the hunters' larder. Sir Julius remarks:

A considerable amount of drift timber was lying here, without doubt brought so far back by human agency, a great deal of it being charred, or partly burnt; and all the evidence before me went to show that this spot, hidden as it was from the entrance by the huge rock in front of it, had been a favourite camping and eating ground, both of the Moa-hunters and afterwards of the shell-fish-eating population.

In this section of the cave bones of Dinornis robustus, Palapteryx crassus, Euryapteryx gravis, and of Aptornis otidiformis were recovered, but only the smallest fragments of the skulls, which leads Sir Julius to remark that the absence of all but shattered skulls in the kitchen middens shows that the brain of the Moa was considered a great delicacy.* The presence of the bones of Dinornis

* In a letter to the Wanganui Herald, the date of which I do not have, Mr. Garland Woon drew attention to a similar practice in Taranaki, and attributed it to the same cause.

page 62 robustus
, together with the egg-shell of large curvature, in the middens also has its interest, for it is suggestive, if not proof, that this large species was not already extinct*, but was still an occasional trophy to be won by the skilful and enterprising hunter.

A feature of the cave economy which also struck the investigators was that, though the bones of the Moa were so plentiful in the stratum assigned to the Moa-hunters, the ovens in which the bones were cooked were so few, numbering only three. This circumstance led them to conclude—and, in all probability, rightly so—that the greater part of their cooking had been done among the sand-dunes outside, and that only on rare occasions—occasions of stress—were the culinary operations performed under the shadow of the rock or the shelter of the cave.

The excavation of the third oven found by the workmen, 10 feet from the entrance of the cave, and measuring several feet in diameter, was to provide a surprise for Sir Julius, who up to this time had stoutly maintained that the Moa-hunters were a race so uncultured that they did not possess,

* The bones of Dinornis ingens and of Dinornis novaezealandiae are also recorded as being found at Pataua, in the North Island.

page 63 and did not know anything of, polished stone tools. The skilful use of the grinding-stone was, he thought, unknown to them, and the beauty of a graceful curve or of a finished edge were ideals in art and utility to which he believed they had not as yet attained.

Sir Julius was not present when this oven was opened, and when he arrived he was not a little astonished to be presented with a polished chisel of a dark chert material, 4.8 inches long by 1.51 inches broad, which in its general form resembled those of undoubted Polynesian manufacture, “having the plane surfaces and defined edges typical of Polynesian implements of this class.”*. Already numbers of rough flints had been found; even pieces of obsidian had been discovered; but no tools finished with the artistry of the Maori of the migration had been seen.

* Mr. H. D. Skinner, in his description of the material found in this cave (Records of the Canterbury Museum, Vol. II, No. 3, p. 96), thinks it would be more correctly described as “a basalt adze.”

Mr. H. D. Skinner, who subsequently examined all this material, says that if it has been correctly designated as coming from the Moa-hunter bed, then it is obvious that the Moa-hunters must have been in communication with districts distant to north and south. The obsidian probably was derived from Mayor Island, in the Bay of Plenty; the flint probably came from Amuri Bluffs; while quartzite, the material from which some of them had been made, is not found nearer than South Canterbury. Two of the flakes, apparently of flint, were interesting as showing fine steep retouch in the manner of the European stone age.

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Nothing doubting the story of his two workmen, whose account that the “chisel” had been found at the bottom of the oven “agreed in every particular,” Sir Julius was more satisfied when, on the 31st October, in his presence, his men picked up a portion of a polished adze which fell out of the face of the agglomerate bed just broken into. To convince himself that no mistake had been made, he scrambled down into the trench and carefully examined the face of the bed, when he saw the unmistakable impression of the tool in the compressed soil, “so that,” he writes, “there was no doubt that it had been embedded in the agglomerate.”

Convinced now that his views of former years on this phase of Moa-hunter culture had been mistaken, he made the following generous, but somewhat belated, declaration:*

As these fragments were found amongst the undisturbed kitchen middens of the Moa-hunters, there is not the least doubt that the same were possessed of polished stone implements, as well as of chipped flint tools, probably employing the former in the building of their dwellings or the manufacture of their canoes and wooden implements, whilst the latter were probably used for the chase or for cutting

* It did not appear in print for some two years after the chisel and adze had been found.

page break
SirJulius VonHaast, K.C.M.G.

SirJulius VonHaast, K.C.M.G.

Mr. Alexander McKay, F.G.S.

Mr. Alexander McKay, F.G.S.

page break page 65 up their huge game for the oven and their meals. And as I shall show further on in the description of the numerous Moa ovens outside the cave, that similar polished stone implements were obtained in contact with Moa bones in undisturbed positions, I have to modify my former views in assuming that the Moa-hunters did not possess polished stone implements. Thus the excavations in and near Moa-bone Point Cave fully confirm the observations concerning this point made and published by Messrs. Mantell and Murison some years ago.

Next to the discovery of this irrefutable evidence that the Moa-hunter had reached a respectable degree of civilization for his day and generation, the most startling find in the cave was the sepulchre of a man who had been buried in a sitting position, as had been the corpse found at Kaikoura in 1860. His limbs had been bound into position by bands of flax, and owing, it is claimed, to the antiseptic properties of the sand, there still were some ligaments and skin upon the bones and some hair upon the scalp. This clearly was not a Moa-hunters' burial, since to dig the grave the soil had been disturbed from a higher level than theirs. Yet the Maori, in spite of their rigid tapu of such places, had continued to use the cave for long after the deposition of the body under its floor, which suggests that in later years the cave was a place of such page 66 infrequent visits that the dead man had been forgotten or never was known to the later comers.*

Examining the two smaller caves, some Moa bones and bones of other birds were found in the sandy floors, mixed up with ashes and other signs of human occupation; but nothing was discovered that would throw a useful light upon the major problem as to who the occupants were.

The explorers then passed to the area of the sand-dunes outside the cave, where over a space of many acres they found the ovens and middens much more numerous and more closely crowded together. Sometimes built up and sometimes destroyed by the shifting winds and beating rain, the natural features of the field were necessarily changing and confusing the spheres of occupation by, first, the Moa-hunters, and then their successors, the shell-fish eaters. However, a little care in observation sufficed to provide a clear line of demarcation over a large portion of the area. Sir Julius remarks:

After examining a bed on the surface, which contained the same species of shells as we obtained from the upper deposits of the cave, I had the sands

* The skeleton was articulated by Mr. F. Fuller, the then taxidermist of the Canterbury Museum, where it now stands. It belonged to a man nearly six feet in height, and of middle age. The ulna of the left arm had been broken, and was only partially healed when the man died.

page 67 below them excavated for about two feet, when we came upon the remains of a cooking-oven, big boulders, charcoal, and near and above it a distinct layer of kitchen middens, which consisted of Moa bones, the larger ones all broken, and some of them calcined; there were also some of smaller birds, of which those of the spotted shag (Graculus punctatus) were the most numerous; the crested penguin, the large kiwi, and the grey duck being also represented. Besides them, bones of the dog, which appears to have been also a favourite dish of the Moa-hunters, a tympanic bone of the ziphoid whale, and some seal bones, were obtained.

It is one of the ingenious arguments used by those who believe in the very early extinction of the Moa that no Moa bones ever have been found bearing evidence that they had been gnawed by dogs, the purpose of the argument being to prove that the Moa was extinct before the dog arrived in the country. Sir Julius von Haast here develops this idea when, in connection with the account of his excavations at the Moa-bone Point Cave, he says:

The curious fact, first observed at the Rakaia encampment, that none of the bones of the kitchen middens were gnawed by dogs, was also recognized in and near the cave, the smallest bones, without exception, being quite intact, except where cut or broken by human hands.

Unable to deny the existence of the dog in the Moa-hunters' camps, Sir Julius evolved the idea that page 68 this was not a domesticated dog, but a wild dog that the Moa-hunters also hunted and killed for food. That assumes the presence of the dog in the country before the arrival of the first inhabitants, which assumption rather flies in the face of the commonly-accepted belief that prior to the arrival of man no mammal of importance existed in New Zealand.

Those who make the absence of tradition relating to the bird the cardinal point of their case that the Moa was not extinguished by the present-day Maori rely upon the belief that the dog came with the migration of A.D. 1350, and, therefore, if there was no evidence that the Moa bones have been gnawed by dogs, that could be only because the Moa was extinct before the arrival of the migration.

These vindicators of tradition, however, overlook the awkward fact that the bones of the dog have been found in the middens of the Moa-hunters, with whom Sir Julius von Haast admits the dog “appears to have been a favourite dish.”* This arrangement of the argument about the dog—logical in every way—resolves itself into an affirmation of the fact that the dog was brought to New Zealand by the Moa-hunters, whoever they were, and that it was contemporary with the Moa. Perhaps the explanation of the ungnawed bones is to be found in the

* Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VII, p. 76.

page 69 vegetarian habits of the dog: “The native dog, like the dog found in other parts of the Pacific, was apparently a vegetable feeder.”*

Having regard to the extent of the area covered by the sand-dune ovens, and the limited amount of money available, it was not possible for Sir Julius and his assistants to open up all the umu visible to the eye. The investigation had, however, proceeded far enough to enable Sir Julius to say with certitude that the real camping-ground of the Moa-hunters was not the cave, but outside the cave, and that the shelter of the rock had been sought only at rare intervals. Out in the open he found among the kitchen refuse that the bones of the smaller species of Moa, Meionornis didiformis and Euryapteryx rheides, were in greatest abundance, while Euryapteryx gravis also was well represented. At Rakaia the remains of Meionornis casuarinus were ever present; but here they were conspicuous by their absence, suggesting that either the bird had become scarce, or, what is more probable, that it preferred a more southern habitat. Seal bones and portions of Moa egg-shell also were found, strangely enough the largest section of the latter being discovered on the surface close to the Sumner road.

* Henry H. Howorth, The Mammoth and the Flood, p. 406.

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Numerous stone implements were uncovered, of which three polished adzes of strictly Polynesian type were in excellent condition, whilst fragments of eleven others, all polished, were found in conjunction with several pieces of grinding-stones used for sharpening or polishing such finished tools. “Of the former,” says Sir Julius, “one of the specimens was found immediately above the stones forming one of the ovens, the others being scattered amongst the kitchen middens, and, as this occurrence is a confirmation of the observations made in the cave, there is no doubt that the Moa-hunters used both polished and unpolished stone implements.”

As a part of the more rudely-formed implements, knives, and scrapers, there were found pieces of obsidian shaped to resemble spear-heads, which showed, as will be pointed out elsewhere, that even at that early date of the country's occupation an exchange of products was taking place between the North Island and the South Island inhabitants. Partly-finished fish-hooks, two ornaments of bone not unlike the heitiki of the Maori—designed for suspension round the neck, it may be, of a dusky damsel—and the frequent occurrence of the tympanic bones of the whale, each in their own way lead to the conclusion that some embryonic form of manufacture was not unknown among a people hitherto page 71 declared to be too primitive to have yet conceived a polished tool to be more desirable than one ill-shaped and rough-chipped.

How far Sir Julius von Haast had modified his estimate of the cultural status of these people since the days when he thought them “autochthones” may oborigines be judged from the following passage in his report, written as he sees both man and Moa vanish from the place that for ever will know them no more:

But now, as it were at once, the Moa-hunters disappear from the scene, but not without affording an insight into their daily life by leaving us some of their polished and unpolished stone implements, a few of their smaller tools made of bone, a few personal ornaments, as well as fragments of canoes, whares, and of wooden spears, fire-sticks, and other objects too numerous to mention, but by which the fact is established that they had reached already a certain state of civilization which in many respects seems not to have been inferior to that possessed by the Maoris when New Zealand was first visited by Europeans.

In due course the work of excavating the cave and the camp was completed. The material collected was handed over to Sir Julius, together with some “notes” which the zealous Alexander McKay had made upon the relative position of the articles recovered. That was in November, 1872; but no immediate use was made of this information by page 72 Sir Julius. In the meantime McKay had been given a position on the staff of the Department of Geological Survey, at Wellington, where he quickly won the confidence of Sir James Hector, the Director of the Survey, and where he subsequently established for himself a fine reputation as a practical geologist.

He tells us that he had always intended to prepare a scientific paper upon the results of his labours in the Sumner cave, but had never been clear in his mind how he would succeed in placing it before a scientific body. Here and now was his opportunity. He had been elected a member of the Wellington Philosophical Society, and, presumably, encouraged by his chief, Sir James Hector, he offered his paper to that Society, before which, on the evening of the 8th August, 1874, it was read on his behalf by his official superior.

The writer opened his paper with a declaration that the whole purpose behind the excavation of the cave was “to procure further information relative to the association of Moa bones with the remains of the former human inhabitants of the cave,” and, further, to determine “whether the Moa-hunters were possessed of tools other than those of the rudest description, and whether this constituted a distinction between them and the Maori inhabitants of later times.”

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In the course of his analysis of the revealed evidence Mr. McKay necessarily traversed some of the ground dealt with in his report to his employer, but his conclusions drawn from that evidence were additional and original. To the average reader the process of Mr. McKay's reasoning might appear to have become somewhat involved in the effort to set the “pros” fairly against the “cons,” but out of his sifting of a mass of assembled facts which he described as “contradictory” in their nature the following conclusions seem to emerge:

That it was impossible to say who the Moa-hunters were, or how long ago they lived. A mystery this had been, and a mystery it remained. But whoever the Moa-hunters were, they enjoyed a cultural standard very much akin to that of the present-day Maori. McKay says:

I cannot entertain a doubt but that the Moa-hunters were, as well as the more modern Maori, possessed of instruments of high polish, both in wood and stone. The Moa-hunters also hunted the seal, as their bones were freely mixed with those of the Moa, and fragments of nets would seem to show that the fisherman's art was not unknown to them.

In the direction of their cultural advancement Mr. McKay went even beyond this, for, in referring to the Moa-hunters' camp at Little Rakaia, he page 74 affirmed that “but for the presence of Moa bones, it might have been a Maori encampment of yesterday.”

He further thought that a considerable time must have elapsed between the desertion of the cave by the Moa-hunters and the arrival of their successors, the shell-fish eaters. This, however, did not necessarily mean that the Moa was totally extinct when the last bird was eaten at the cave: it may have signified nothing more than the departure of the hunters to pursue the Moa farther afield—to its “farthest fastnesses”—when their depredations had rendered it scarce on the surrounding plain. That the Moa was alive during the early period of the shell-fish eaters, and “reached a time posterior to the accumulation of some of the shell-mounds,” he did not doubt; but how long individual birds may have lingered on after the general extinction, he did not pretend to say.

Nor did he consider that the arrival of the shell-fish eaters in succession to the Moa-hunters proved the advent of a new race of people. This economic revolution may have meant no more than that the same people were, by the force of circumstances, compelled to change an important item in their diet and substitute one class of food for another. What did seem to be proved was that when the shell-heaps at Sumner were accumulated page 75 maize and European products introduced by Captain Cook were unknown, as no trace of European plants were found, while materials apparently as liable to destruction were observed in abundance.

Up to this point the views of Mr. McKay were in direct conflict to the hitherto expressed opinions of Sir Julius von Haast, but when he applied to the problem another test his ideas seemed to approximate more closely to those of his late chief. When he asked himself the question whether the Moa-hunters were Maoris, or whether the Maoris were Moa-hunters, he could find no answer to the first part of his question, and to the second part of his proposition the answer was more or less in the negative. The controlling influence that directed his mind in this direction was what he wrongly thought to be the absence of tradition among the present-day Maori concerning the bird. This he considered a condition impossible if the Maori of the traditional migration had actually seen and hunted the Moa:

If, as commonly stated, the present inhabitants immigrated hither, say, 350* years ago, and if after their arrival here the Moa was exterminated by them,

* The accepted tradition is that the migration of “the fleet” referred to by Mr. McKay took place about A.D. 1350, not A.D. 1524 as Mr. McKay assumes. Mr. McKay gravely underestimated the traditional lore of the Moa.

page 76 I cannot but think that reliable accounts would have reached present time. And if individual specimens of the Moa lived till times as recent as fifty, or even a hundred years ago, surely a people who could preserve exact tradition of matters to them much more trivial hardly could have failed to have given them a prominent place in their tradition.

If, however, the Maori did hunt the Moa, it could not have been within the limited period of 350 years fixed by the tradition. Mr. McKay did not consider it physically possible for a reputedly small band of people to do what obviously had been done in the way of building terraced hill-forts, etc., in that time. “I cannot see,” observes Mr. McKay, “that, considering the circumstances, the 350 years will be nearly sufficient for the natural increase of the few original inhabitants in sufficient numbers for the execution of even a portion of such works, if their antiquity be as stated.”

His final verdict, therefore, was that either the Moa was exterminated by the people of a migration prior to that of “the fleet,” or that this traditional migration must be considered to have taken place not 350 years but 1,350 years ago.

A résumé of this paper was published in the Wellington newspapers, and afterwards was copied into The Press at Christchurch. In this way page 77 Sir Julius von Haast was first apprised of what had happened. The neglected material from the excavated cave was immediately turned out from its obscure corner in the Canterbury Museum, and an elaborate paper was prepared on “Researches and Excavations carried on in and near the Moa-bone Point Cave, Sumner Road, in the Year 1872.”* This paper was read before the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury on the 15th September, 1874, and in it Sir Julius provided the account of the cave's excavation, the substance of which is to be found in the foregoing pages. To the paper he, however, added a postscript in which he attacked Mr. McKay for an unwarranted theft of his thunder, the lash of his anger reaching even Sir James Hector, “the abettor of such a perfidious transaction being as guilty as the perpetrator himself.”

Mr. McKay's justification was that the material discovered in the cave had been scrupulously handed over to Sir Julius von Haast, together with a report upon it; therefore, the things that were Caesar's had been faithfully rendered unto Caesar. His opinions about that material, and all that the material implied, he claimed, were his own. He, therefore, had merely added his conclusions to the report

* Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VII, p. 54.

Ibid., p. 528.

page 78 tendered to Sir Julius; and he had done this in the full and confident belief that after the lapse of two years Sir Julius had no intention of publishing anything upon the subject.

This explanation, conciliatory though it was, by no means placated the aggrieved Sir Julius, who sought to have the paper excluded from publication in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. This embargo was not conceded, and, after many heated discussions, and much correspondence involving the New Zealand Institute and several of its affiliated Societies, the Council of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury resolved to state a case for an opinion upon the ethics of the situation by Dr. Joseph Dalton Hooker,* Director of the Kew Gardens and President of the Royal Society of London. The question asked Dr. Hooker was:

Has a paid workman a right to publish his employer's discoveries, or the theories arising there-from, without his employer's consent or knowledge, and prior to his publication?

Upon this proposition Dr. Hooker formulated his views on the 15th December, 1875, and when they reached Christchurch early in the succeeding year it was found that he had distinguished between two classes of workmen:

* He was President of the Royal Society from 1873 until 1878, and was knighted in 1877.

page 79

(a) Mere labourers paid to excavate and collect materials which may be discoveries, or tend to discoveries, of whom nothing further is claimed than the specimens and all such information as to their locality, superposition, aggregation, and condition as the employer may be able to extract from the workman; and

(b) Skilled assistants paid not only to excavate and collect materials, but to make scientific observations, obtain results and suggest theories to the employer, all of which are the property of the employer.

On the question of excluding Mr. McKay's paper from the Transactions Dr. Hooker came to the conclusion that:

A scientific society is bound to bring before its meetings papers worthy of that honour, and contributed for the purpose, except where there is some suspicion that these were surreptitiously acquired, forgeries, or plagiarisms.

As the language of Sir Julius in the postscript to his paper had placed McKay well within the first of Dr. Hooker's classifications of “workmen,” the decision was interpreted to mean that McKay was not bound by the limitations that would have restrained him had he been regarded as a skilled assistant, and that therefore he was within his rights in preparing the paper.

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The second decision was interpreted as a complete vindication of the Council of the New Zealand Institute in publishing McKay's paper in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.*

The jubilant McKay demonstrated his appreciation of the verdict by giving rein to his poetic muse. He wrote in pamphlet form, much of it in the metre of Cowper's famous poem, a satirical rhyme describing the capture in Canterbury of a live Moa and an adventurous ride upon its back through the streets of Christchurch. The rider was a personage

* Mr. H. F. von Haast has supplied the writer with the following note on this decision:

“Hooker's distinction is no doubt sound as to the information that the employer is entitled to obtain from his employees, but that distinction does not necessarily give the employee who might have taken an unskilled job for the very purpose of associating himself with a distinguished excavator the right to publish the facts of the discoveries and his own views thereon in anticipation of his employer's publications, and possibly containing matter that he has derived directly or indirectly from remarks or hints of the employer who, as in Haast's case, gave the fullest information to his employees on the nature and meaning of the material discovered, and who may have delayed his own publication in order to make a careful study of the materials and the inferences to be drawn from them. Surely it is the right of the employer and not the employee, skilled or unskilled, to be the first to give the facts of the discoveries to the world. If Hooker is right, every excavator ought to insist on a contract with every employee prohibiting him from the publication of any matter relating to the excavations without the employer's consent, before the latter has issued his final publication on the subject.”

page break
Site of the Shag River Moa-Hunters' Camp

Site of the Shag River Moa-Hunters' Camp

page break page 81 whom he designated “The Canterbury Gilpin.”* Who this Gilpin was may be readily conjectured from the following verse, which occurs near the crisis of the story:

Horror of horrors yet await,
 The great illustrious—
Fate, or his own mismanagement,
 Had bound him doubly fast.

With the delivery of Dr. Hooker's opinion and the publication of McKay's poetic squib the storm was allowed to subside; and with a view to ascertaining who the people were who accumulated the deep shell-beds which still are conspicuous features along the coasts of the South Island Sir Julius von Haast appealed to his friend the Reverend Canon J. W. Stack, whose knowledge of South Island tradition is admitted to have been extensive, perhaps unrivalled. By this gentleman he was told what was perfectly true: that the

* The Canterbury Gilpin, or the Capture and Flight of the Moa. A poem by Dinornis Sumnerensis. Parts I and II. James Hughes, Lambton Quay, Wellington. 1880.

At a meeting of the Council of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury held on the 6th April, 1876, a letter from Dr. Hooker on the subject of the Sumner Cave exploration was read by the President (Dr. Llewellyn Powell), and it was resolved that the reply of Dr. Hooker be accepted as final, that the President reply to the letter, and that the contents of Dr. Hooker's letter be not communicated to the Institute.

page 82 presence of these shell-heaps was generally attributed to the Waitaha people, who were the predecessors of Kati-Mamoe, who in turn preceded Kai-Tahu, his informants. Upon the receipt of this crumb of information Sir Julius complacently remarks:

Seeing that these remains are assigned to the remotest period of Maori occupation by the Natives themselves, the great division existing between the lower, or Moa-hunter, and the upper, or shell beds, with such a distinct line of demarcation, goes far to prove that an enormous space of time must have elapsed since the Dinornis became extinct.*

Canon Stack, upon whose information this conclusion was based, was by no means so optimistic as Sir Julius, and preferred to put a much more conservative interpretation upon the facts as he saw them. He says:

There is very strong presumptive evidence in support of his [Haast's] view that the Maoris were not the Moa-hunters. But that the Dinornis was hunted and became extinct ages before the advent of the Maori, is a conclusion hardly deducible from the facts upon which the theory is based.

The following are the conclusions arrived at by Mr. H. D. Skinner after having examined the

* Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. VII, p. 78.

Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. IV, p. 107.

page 83 material removed from Moa-bone Point Cave to the Canterbury Museum:*

The relative depths of the deposits indicate that the period which has elapsed since the extermination of the Moa is at least seven times as long as the Moa-hunter period.

There is no evidence that the culture of the Moa-hunters differed from that of the later occupants of the cave, nor that the cave was ever occupied by representatives of Whatahoro's “Maruiwi”; nor that the culture of Ngati-Mamoe, to whom the greater part of the deposits must be due, differed in any important feature from that of the tribes who preceded or followed them.

Moa bones of kinds providing suitable material for the manufacture of hooks and similar implements were collected for use by the Maoris even in the early European period, and this sufficiently explains the bones mentioned by McKay as occurring in Maori beds.

Further evidence is required before the contemporaneity of man and the Dinornithidae can be regarded as proved.

* Records of the Canterbury Museum, Vol. II, No. 3, pp. 102–103.

Under date the 5th August, 1937, Mr. H. D. Skinner writes to the author: “When I wrote that further evidence was required before the various species of the genus Dinornis could be regarded as proved to be contemporary with man in New Zealand, I had failed to note Hutton's confirmation of Haast (Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. XXIV (1892), p. 113).” Further confirmation comes from the identification by Dr. W. R. B. Oliver of D. maximus, D. ingens, and D. novaezealandiae from the bones found by Mr. Teviotdale at Papa-towai.

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The following is the detailed list of the various species of Moa bones recovered from inside the cave as recorded by Sir Julius von Haast:
Dinornis robustus13
Emeus crassus18
Euryapteryx gravis35
Emeus casuarinus17
Anomalopteryx didiformis103
Fragments of bones of different species51
Tracheal rings of Moas37
Portions of egg-shells of Moas (trays)3

Moa bones collected in the kitchen middens of the Moa-hunters amongst the sand-dunes outside the cave:

Euryapteryx gravis 33
Emeus crassus 49
Emeus casuarinus 15
Anomalopteryx didiformis 53
Tracheal rings of different species 18
Pieces of egg-shells (trays) 2

Objects of human workmanship found inside the cave, illustrating a phase of the cultural standard of the Moa-hunters:

(a) In Bone Number
Canine tooth of dog, bored at base 1
Needle made of humerus of nelly (Ossifraga gigantea) 1page 85
Awl made of distal end of tibia of nelly (Ossifraga gigantea) 1
Proximal end of humerus of nelly (Ossifraga gigantea), neatly cut of 1
(b) In Wood
Apparatus for lighting fire by circular motion, made of pukatea (Atherosperma novae-zealandiae) 2
Apparatus for lighting fire by rubbing lengthwise, made of komaku (Carpodetus serratus) 2
Portions of apparatus for lighting fire by rubbing lengthwise, made of komaku (Carpodetus serratus) 8
Portions of apparatus for lighting fire by rubbing lengthwise, made of patete (Melicope ternata) 1
Portions of fork, made of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) 1
Portions of spear, made of nene (Dracophyllum sp.) 1
Pieces of timber, pukatea (Atherosperma novae-zealandiae) 4
Piece of timber, portion of a canoe (?), of tawai (Fagus Menziesii) 1
Portions of pile, totara (Podocarpus totara) 2
Chips of totara (Podocarpus totara) 3
Fork made of manuka (Leptospermum scoparium) 1
Piece of pukatea (Atherosperma novae-zealandiae), portion of a canoe (?) 1page 86
Pieces of tawa (Nesodaphne tawa), probably portions of a bird-spear 2
(c) In Stone
Polished stone implements, adze perfect 1
Polished stone implements, fragments. One of these resembles the point of a tool called tamatau by the Maoris, formerly used by them to make fish-hooks 17
Pieces of gritty sandstone, taraiwaka of Maoris; some with grooves from sharpening tools 4
Obsidian, tuhua 4
Pumice-stone 2
Quartz, agate, chalcedony (cores) 4
Chipped flint implements, of which ten are cores; of the rest, five only show any recognizable form, of which two are spear-heads, three knives, the rest being mostly flakes 34

Objects of human workmanship found in the kitchen middens amongst the sand-dunes outside he cave:

(a) Of Bone
Pieces of Moa bones, partly prepared for fish-hooks 2
Ornaments made of the humerus of the albatross, probably to be suspended from the neck 2
page 87
(b) Of Stone
Polished stone implements, chert 3
Polished stone implements, fragmentary 8
Pieces of gritty sandstone for polishing and sharpening 9
Pieces of obsidian, of which several have the form of spear-heads 13
Piece of pumice-stone, evidently used for polishing purposes 1
Knives and scrapers of flint 7
Cores of flint 4
Flakes of flint 48
Flakes of palla 2
Chipped pieces of basalt, of which two are nicely formed spear-heads; many are evidently chipped for knives, or scrapers; a few being cores 66

The total objects collected in and about Moa-bone Point Cave numbered 2,797.