The Moa-Hunters of New Zealand: Sportsman of the Stone Age
Chapter III. The Papa-Towai Camp
Chapter III. The Papa-Towai Camp
The woods appear with crimson blotches deeply dashed and crossed.
* This was before he was knighted. In his political activities he was in those days known as “Clutha” Mackenzie, to distinguish him from John McKenzie and Scobie Mackenzie, who also were members of the House of Representatives.
The style of beauty here is quite different from the wild grandeur of the West Coast and Lakes district, with their waterfalls 2,000 feet in height, mountains nearly 13,000 feet high, lakes, and glaciers. Here it is all tranquillity. Catlins river and lake are very lovely; the lake is wooded to the water's edge, while the river is navigable for many miles inland. One can hardly imagine anything more pleasant than to row lazily up this river on some lovely summer day, with the tall birch trees meeting overhead, mixed with fringing rimus. The sunbeams pierce the leafy canopy every here and there; the banks of the river are one mass of tree- and other ferns, the trunks of the larger trees being festooned with the more delicate varieties; pigeons and tuis rustle about in the sunshine, or an occasional flock of ducks fly outward, disturbed by the approach of a stranger—and this all within a day's ride of Dunedin, and yet almost unknown.
The Tahakopa river, lake, and valley are remarkable for natural beauty—Tennyson's veritable Valley of Avilion:
Where falls not hail or rain or any snow,
Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard lawns
And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea.
Nature here is very lovely. Away in the distance the view is bounded by well-shaped hills, wooded to their summits; long, undulating ridges lead gently down to the water's edge, covered with trees of every shade of green. The lake and outlet are clothed with some of the loveliest trees. The brilliant rata page 116 in all its crimson glory; feathery-tufted pale-green kowhai; veronicas in full flower, from deep purple to pure white; and pink and white convolvulus. Hundreds of wood-pigeons were hanging about the kowhai, the sun glinting on their glossy plumage, whilst kakas and tuis in flocks kept the rata tree-tops literally alive. The immediate margin of the lake is yellow sandstone; and the beach is covered with bright-yellow sand, refreshed to the rock by every tide; wild-fowl are numerous on the lake, and out in the open sea porpoises disport in schools.*
* Otago Daily Times, 31st January, 1889.
† Weinmannia racemosa is endemic to New Zealand. It attains its northern limit at Thames, and near Hamilton in the Waikato, whence it extends southwards to Stewart Island and is especially abundant on the west coast of the South Island. It attains to a height of from 60 to 80 feet and is classed as one of New Zealand's large trees. It is more commonly known as kamahi, and is of little commercial value.
ProfessorF. W. Hutton, F.R.S.
Rev. R. Taylor, M.A.
In those days the McLennan River flowed into the ocean a few miles farther north, but, some change taking place in the land-levels, it has now joined its waters to those of the Tahakopa, both rivers entering the sea at Papa-towai in a large and increasing flood, resulting in the old camp site being steadily scoured away. This erosion in all probability led to the discovery of the middens once occupied by a busy community, but so long abandoned that a new forest has grown up upon the spot, tall, slow-growing totaras* replacing the less virile towai trees.
* Sir Thomas Mackenzie says: “To give an idea of the antiquity of the deposit, I may mention that a totara tree, 7 feet in circumference, has grown upon the deposit of mould formed above the midden, and from below this tree I dug the jaw-bone of a dog, thus clearly showing that native dogs existed before Captain Cook's arrival.”
The camp is best approached from the main road, near the traffic bridge, by a broad track which has been cut through the bush and runs down the northern side of the river to its mouth. Happily, it has been left too rough for motor traffic, and when I was there in January last it provided a pedestrian's paradise—one of the most beautiful walks it has been my fortune to see this many a year. Fringed on both sides by tall forest trees intermingled with great splashes of the brilliant red rata bloom, there was rank upon rank of tree-ferns rising one above the other, and garlands of flowering mistletoe festooning the dark-green tree-tops. Through this glade of warm lights and deep shadows there still flitted many tuis; the note of the bell-bird was heard at frequent intervals and in many places; but there was a marked absence of the smaller birds, such as the pert little fantail and the dainty tom-tit. None of the former and only one of the latter did we see—a scarcity, I am told, due to the ravages among our native birds of the destructive German owl.
A brief walk—all too brief—brought us to the sandy flat, which lies between a bend of the river and the sea, whereon the camp site is situated. Now covered by dense bush, the gnarled roots of the larger trees spreading across the surface of the ground, it would be almost impossible for the page 119 uninitiated to guess what a stratum of past life lies under his feet. This is best seen from the river-bed below.
Standing upon the sandy margin of the tidal estuary several hundred yards in width and two miles in length, there is observable, 8 to 10 feet above, a clear line of white shells—pipi-shells—6 inches to a foot below the surface, with here and there large patches of black soil indicative of where former fires had burned. This bank, the left bank, is obviously subject to heavy erosion during river floods; much already has gone, and much is in the process of disappearing. To-day the trunks of great totara trees undermined by the rushing waters are lying in the stream; others, partially uprooted, lie with their heads and spreading branches immersed in the water, their roots still clinging to mother earth. Another flood and they, too, will sink to their death. Burned oven stones and debris, fallen from the middens above, litter the strand, betraying the secret of the hidden camp.
When I inspected the site in company with Mr. Teviotdale, we did no digging; but my guide showed me the features of the camp and the spots where he and his confrères had previously dug. Mr. Teviotdale explained that his attention had first been directed to the place in 1933, when he had visited page 120 it in company with Mr. A. G. Hornsey, of Timaru. They were then told that Moa bones had been found there, and they even were given some that had but recently been recovered. In the following year the field was revisited by Messrs. Teviotdale and Hornsey, and their excavations resulted in their obtaining first-hand evidence that the place had once been a Moa-hunters' camp. Finding, however, that their tools were too light to cope with the heavy growth of bush, they did not carry their explorations beyond that point.
Later, Mr. Leslie Lockerbie, of McLennan township, exploring along the river-bank, came upon some Moa relics and Moa-hunter curios which had been exposed by river erosion. These he, with particular care, collected and sent to the Otago University Museum, together with a statement of the known facts regarding them. This information decided the Museum authorities to excavate the site thoroughly and systematically.
The work was commenced on the 8th January, 1936, and was continued until the end of the month. In the enterprise Mr. Teviotdale had associated with him Mr. Philip George, an enthusiastic amateur investigator, and later they were joined in their labours by Mr. Lockerbie. Of these operations Mr. Teviotdale has prepared a circumstantial report page 121 which he has kindly placed at my disposal. As it is the only detailed account yet written, or likely to be written for some time, of what the excavation of this field has revealed, I feel that I cannot do better than use Mr. Teviotdale's own words—words of charming simplicity—for the pleasurable edification of my readers who are interested in this phase of the subject:
To begin with, we dug over a large extent of the debris washed out of the bank, finding a number of quartzite and chert flakes, a sinker, a small greenstone chisel, a flake of a greenstone adze. Maori midden deposit showed in various places along the edge of the bank, nowhere more than 2 feet in depth and usually less. The surface of the site was densely covered with scrub and young totara trees, whose thick mat of roots made the work hard and tedious. With the object of preventing erosion by the high winds, we left a narrow strip of bush or scrub along the edge of the bank and commenced to excavate where Mr. Hornsey and I had worked in 1933. The deposit consisted of a layer of cockle and pipi shells about 2 feet in depth, then a layer of black greasy soil containing oven stones and ashes overlying clean sea-sand.
On the northern end of our trench the sandy bottom dipped sharply and the black deposit got deeper. The trench was about 3 feet deep on the southern side, while at the northern side it reached a depth of 7 feet. The layer of shells kept at an even depth of fully 2 feet, while the deeper part of the black layer also contained occasional patches of shells. page 122 Moa bones were found all through the deposit, but they were more plentiful in the bottom layer. The pelves and other large bones were usually found in the bottom layer, although they often appeared in the shell deposit. Vertebra-joints, ribs, toe-joints, and tracheal rings were found all through the deposit; but most of the artifacts and fragments of bone for manufacturing purposes were found in the shell layer. In the black lower deposit were flakes of chert, quartzite, and a fine-grained basalt. These flakes had probably been used as knives to cut up the bodies of the Moas. Just below the shells, on the surface of the black layer, Mr. George found a very fine polished scraper made of the above-mentioned fine-grained basalt. Among the shells were many fragments of Moa bone; and, although the majority were roughly broken pieces, a large number of them represented all stages of fish-hook manufacture, and many had been broken in the process of drilling. We found one complete simple, or one-piece, hook, and several fragments of other one-piece hooks, and many files, cutters, and polishers of schist and sandstone.
Well down in the black layer Mr. Lockerbie found a heap of Moa bones consisting of two pelves and ten tarsus bones, and near by I found the leg-bones of several Moas heaped together. From a space of 12 feet in width and 17 feet in length we unearthed eighteen Moa pelves of two different sizes. These were very fragile, and we did not succeed in excavating any of them in an unbroken condition. Leg-bones were numerous, but many of these were broken—especially the tibiae, which in some cases had little left except the ends. The unbroken leg-bones found in this area comprised eight femora, page 123 three tibiae, and eighteen tarsi of Moas. Seal bones, some of them very large, were often found lying with the Moa pelves, while here and there were little groups of small bones, usually the wing-bones of some medium-sized bird. The long, stout, wing-bones, so common on Maori camp sites near Dunedin, were absent. Two kakapo beaks completed the list of our findings here.
As we extended our trench towards the road, the sandy bottom rose until the black layer was only a few inches in thickness, and, as it contained nothing but a few oven stones and an occasional Moa bone, we did not lift this black layer, but only dug through it here and there. At one spot, close to the road, where an area of this black layer was tramped hard and firm, we found several Moa-bone points of composite hooks of various types, a long needle-shaped pendant, some small adzes (more or less damaged), and three pointed pickers or threaders of bird bone (one of these contained a small but very well made bone needle), a number of flattened or drilled tabs of Moa bone, some sandstone cutters and polishers, and many rough, broken fragments of Moa bone. On the northern side of this area Mr. George found a large Moa-bone point of a composite hook, while on the southern edge Mr. Lockerbie unearthed a much larger point of similar shape. The deposit, which was about 18 inches deep over this firm area, consisted of cockle, mussel, pipi, and paua shells, fish bones and scales, as well as some snapper jaw-bones and a few bird and seal bones. In the shell deposit were Moa pelves and ribs, toe and vertebra joints, and several ends of leg-bones, the shafts of which had been broken for manufacturing purposes. Many of page 124 the artifacts were lying on the firm floor, but the majority were found among the shells.
On the northern side of our excavation a sand-hill rose abruptly, and here a thin layer of sand lay between the shells and the black deposit. The bottom dipped until the black deposit was nearly 3 feet deep, but it contained nothing but a few oven stones, and the shell deposit gave out completely on this side. The shell layer continued under the road, and we worked in as far as we could without damaging the roadway.
Here Mr. George found a medium-sized greenstone adze in good order.
On the southern side of our trench the two layers gave out against clean sand. Near the outer edge of the shell deposit we found an unfinished one-piece hook and fragments of several others—all made of Moa bone. Mr. George found an unfinished one-piece hook made of whale's bone, which had been manufactured, not by drilling, as were the Moa-bone hooks, but by pecking or gouging. Two very large quartzite flakes lying beside the lower jaw-bone of an elephant seal were found on the sand below the midden deposit. In the deposit itself were two Moa pelves, many vertebra and toe joints, and the ends of several leg-bones, the shafts of which had been broken up for manufacturing purposes. In the bottom layer two unbroken Moa femora and some quartzite flakes were found.As the road prevented farther progress, we returned to the river-bank, where we commenced another trench about 30 feet to the southward of our first excavation. On the northern side of this trench there was a shallow deposit of shells connecting with page break page break page 125 our first trench. As the layer was almost barren of curios and we were anxious not to destroy more of the vegetation than was necessary, we did not connect with No. 1 trench, but carried on parallel with it towards the road. On the southern side the bottom dipped and then rose again, forming a small hollow. Here the deposit consisted of a layer of shells above a black loamy deposit, the depth of the two being nearly 5 feet. Moa and seal bones were found all through it, but were more numerous in the black deposit.
We found, unbroken, seven Moa femora, seven Moa tarsi, and one tibia; also three Moa pelves and three crania—all of ordinary size. One of the femur and two of the tarsus bones were much larger than any others found, and appear to be bones of Dinornis maximus, the largest species of Moa. Underneath one pelvis was a small quantity of Moa egg-shell. Mr. George obtained a one-piece fish-hook, a quartzite drill-point, and a very fine tab of Moa bone, the centre of which had been drilled out. Mr. Lockerbie unearthed a black stone adze in good order, while I got a long curved pendant made of a rib, a schist file or rubber, and two hammer-stones. These stones are pebbles of the same variety as those commonly used as hammers at the Foveaux Straits camp sites. I also found a thin circular piece of sandstone slightly polished on each side, and a piece of whale's bone worked to the shape of a small cork. I cannot suggest a use for either of these pieces.
The deposit here very much resembled that in No. 1 trench. It lay on a deep slope, the lower part containing most of the large Moa and seal bones, while the majority of the artifacts were in the upper page 126 layer of shells. Gradually the deposit became shallower and barren of curios.
In the centre of this midden was a dead broadleaf tree whose fallen trunk, which was fully 2 feet in diameter, was in an advanced stage of decay. In the ring formed by the decaying roots of the tree a totara tree was growing. The advanced stage of decay of the broadleaf tree and the size of the totara, which was about 4 inches in diameter and over 12 feet in height, would indicate that the midden was of considerable antiquity.
When we had exhausted this spot I searched round about for some time and found a midden about 80 yards south-west of the two trenches. It lay along the foot of a sandy slope, and in places it was fully 3 feet in depth, consisting wholly of shells—mostly cockle and pipi. There were many paua shells, usually in groups and often placed one within the other. Some of these paua shells were very large. Mixed with the shells were a few seal, dog, bird, and fish bones and scales, and a kakapo beak. There were also many fragments of broken Moa bones suitable for manufacturing purposes, tabs in various stages of manufacture (a few showing the marks of drilling), several drill-points of Moa bone, a few fish-hook points, polishing-stones or files, and several adzes of common stone; all the adzes were more or less damaged. All through this midden there was no indication of the Moa having been used for food, although the bones had been freely used for manufacture.
In the clean sand below the shell deposit, and in some places separated from the shells by a thin band of clean sand, were several patches of Moa bones page 127 mixed with a few pipi shells and some oven stones. I here obtained two Moa pelves, a number of toe and vertebra joints, one Moa skull with upper and lower mandible, another without the beak, and a number of leg-bones. Although many of the leg-bones were broken, I secured four tibiae, one femur, and two tarsi which were intact. In one spot Mr. Lockerbie found a small heap of Moa egg-shell. A few feet from this I found two similar heaps about 12 inches apart. I should imagine that each of these heaps would comprise the greater part of an egg. There were also a number of pieces of what appeared to be Moa droppings, part of a dog's skull, the skull of a large seal, and some seal bones. With the last mentioned were a number of flakes of brown chert; but there were no other implements. Between the heaps of egg-shell and the layer of sea-shells was about 6 inches of clean sand. The whole of the lower deposits in this midden appeared to have no connection with the upper layer, which contained no Moa bones except pieces suitable for manufacture.
The thick bush and scrub made it very difficult to trace accurately the position of the smaller features of the landscape. The site of the first trench appeared to be on a small sandy spur with a gully or hollow between it and a much higher sand-hill. This little gully extended in an easterly direction across Sand Road and joined a larger hollow in the bush. It did not connect with the river at its western end, but the larger gully ran in a southerly direction to the river's mouth.
The small hollow had been filled with debris from the operations of the Moa-hunters, who apparently had worked on the top of a small ridge and thrown page 128 the waste material into the hollow. This would account for the depth recorded.
Evidently the lowest deposit was offal from the Moas; but later the hunters had cooked enormous quantities of shell-fish as well as the giant birds. As the number of Moas in a confined space such as this estuary would not be large, it is likely that the stores of food would be increased by cooking and preserving shell-fish.
The presence of seal bones in close proximity to those of the Moa in these middens indicates that both creatures were secured at the same time by the Maoris; and it is likely that seal-oil would be used in the preservation process of the meat of both bird and beast. It is possible, too, that the long tibiae of the Moas were broken to facilitate the extraction of the marrow or oil for this purpose.
As there is no fresh water on the north side of the river-mouth, it is not likely that the Natives would have had a permanent camp there. On the other side of the river are several small creeks, one of which has a good steady flow of water and is now a favourite camping-place for picnic parties and tourists. At intervals along this south-west side of the river are midden heaps indicating old camp sites, and although we were told of other shell-heaps in the bush we did not have time to visit them.
On a day when frequent showers of rain prevented us from working in the open Mr. George and I excavated the floor of a small cave. This contained a deposit of pipi and cockle shells, about 18 inches deep, over an area of about 15 feet in length and ranging from 12 feet in width at the entrance to 3 feet at the inner end. As we found no curios, it page 129 is probable that this cave was only an occasional camping-place.
On the seaward side of Sand Road Mr. Lockerbie showed us various places in the bush where there were deposits of shells. We worked on one of these deposits which contained seal bones and a quantity of broken leg-bones of the Moas mixed with a smaller deposit of shells. Mr. George found two broken adzes here, while Mr. Lockerbie found a curious implement made from a seal's fibula. It is probably a maripi, used for detaching paua from the rocks. We prospected one or two other spots in the bush, but unfortunately we had not enough time to do systematic work.
There was an almost total absence of the long, slender bird bones (commonly called albatross bones) which are so frequently found on Dunedin camp sites. This is strange, as fishermen at Tautuku, only a few miles away, told me that when fishing they had difficulty in preventing the albatrosses from taking their baited hooks. Bones of smaller birds were fairly plentiful, and occasionally we found the larger bones in little heaps. We obtained several wing-bones pointed to form threaders or pickers, and inside one of these pointed bones was a small, neat, and well-made needle. I have recorded finding similar bones, which have been used as needle-cases, at the Shag River mouth, and at Little Papanui on Otago Peninsula.
A noticeable feature of the fish-hook points found here is that all are unbarbed. Among the curios presented by Mr. Lockerbie to the Otago University Museum are two stone fish-hook shanks. These were found on this site among the debris left by the tide. In our excavations we found several of the carved page 130 bone points that are usually found in company with the stone or bone shanks. As drilling was the usual method of manufacturing one-piece hooks, it was to be expected that stone drill-points would be plentiful. Strangely enough, they were very scarce; we found only one. This contrasts greatly with the Shag River camp, where I obtained upwards of 400 stone drill-points. Drill-points made of Moa bone were found on both sites, but in proportion to the area of the camp were more numerous at Tahakopa than at the Shag River.
Two very sharp points of Moa bone which we unearthed are too finely pointed to be drill-points, and probably were used as awls.
We found only two pieces of obsidian, both in the tide-washed area, and three pieces of greenstone, two of which were in the tidal area. Kokowai (red ochre) was scarce also, two pieces only being found in the middens.
In the deepest part of our trench (about 7 feet) the formation from the surface was as follows: A shell layer, a deeper layer of black sandy earth containing oven stones and charcoal, a thin layer of sand, and, finally, a thin layer of shells over the sand bottom. In all these layers were Moa bones. There was a large Moa pelvis among the shells below the surface, and two Moa pelves were on the sandy bottom with a flake or reddish chert beside them. Although this red chert is quite common here, I met no one who had seen it in situ in the district. Quartzite flakes were not as common as this reddish chert; but thin, sharp-edged flakes of a very finely grained basalt were plentiful. These probably were used as knives, and they would be quite as effective as either the chert or the quartzite ones.page 131
The unbroken leg-bones of the Moas found by us comprised 21 femora, 8 tibiae, and 29 tarsi, making a total of 58.
The total number of objects found by our party of sufficient importance to be registered was 329, consisting for the most part of hammer-stones, polishers, cutters, tabs of cut and smoothed Moa bone, and parts of tabs which have been broken in the process of drilling. Two pieces of Moa bone appear to be fragments cut from a larger piece by drilling instead of sawing, a feature I have not noticed on other sites. Sandstone polishers, cutters, etc., were very plentiful, and I brought only the better ones away.
The adzes were nearly all broken. It may be that their damaged condition was caused by being used to break the Moa bones into pieces suitable for manufacture.
The unfinished one-piece hook of whale's bone had been made by chipping or pecking, while the Moa-bone examples were drilled. At Pahia, near Orepuki, I obtained similar specimens together, which shows that the two methods were in use at the same time. Two points of composite hooks were also made of whale's bone.
The interesting feature of this piece of exploration is that a bone was unearthed which Dr. W. R. B. Oliver considers to be the femur of a Dinornis maximus. This was the largest species of the Moa, standing some 12 feet in height. Up to this point no remains of this bird have been found in Moa-hunters' camps, thus encouraging the belief that the page 132 species was extinct, or nearly so, before man arrived in this country. Confirmation that these magnificent birds were still roaming the country, though possibly in greatly reduced numbers, in the days of the Moa-hunters is, however, supplied by the fact that not alone at Papa-towai, but at the Waitaki camp their remains have been found in the deserted ovens and middens.
The fact that a young forest has grown up upon the site of the camp since it was abandoned marks it as a place of some antiquity; but here again we are unable to assign to it more than an approximate date. It is admitted that, though not a hardwood, the totara is a tree of slow growth; and my best information is that a tree such as Sir Thomas Mackenzie speaks of—7 feet in circumference—probably would take 150 to 200 years to grow to that state. Not all the trees are by any means that size, but the evidence of the whole situation is that at least two or three hundred years must have elapsed since the camp was last occupied.
This camp site also is involved in another interesting problem. The Moa was not a bush bird: it was too large and clumsy for that, and preferred to roam out in the open spaces. To-day, however, not only is the camp site overgrown with trees and tangled underscrub, but the surrounding country is page 133 equally forest-clad. If this always was its condition, well might we ask, “How were the Moas brought from the open country, through the bush, to the camp at Papa-towai?” Yet they were brought there. The enormity of this task turns one's thoughts in the direction of supposing that in the days of the Moa-hunters the countryside was not heavily wooded,* and the reference in Mr. Teviotdale's report to shell-heaps in the bush afford some confirmation of this view. The Maori, in the interests of self-preservation, would be more likely to establish such places in the open, where he would have a clear view all round him, rather than in the bush, where at any moment he might be surprised and set upon by a lurking enemy.
* For an interesting discussion on plant movement in New Zealand since the last glacial period—and especially in this southern region—the reader is referred to a paper by Lucy M. Cranwell and Lennart von Post, printed in Geografiska Annaler, 1936, pp. 3–4.
Dr. W. R. B. Oliver has identified bones of the following species of Moa as being present at Papa-towai:
- Dinornis maximus.
- Dinornis ingens.
- Dinornis novae-zealandiae.
- Anamalopteryx didiformis.
- Anamalopteryx parvus.
- Emeus crassus.
- Emeus casuarinus.
- Euryapteryx elephantopus.
- Emeus huttoni.
- Euryapteryx ponderosus.
- Euryapteryx gravipes.
- Euryapteryx pygmaeus.
- Megalapteryx didimus.
- Megalapteryx heotori.