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The Stone Implements of the Maori

Nephrite Adzes

Nephrite Adzes

There are in the Museum a considerable number of adzes and chisels made of nephrite. These items are here seen in every stage of the process of manufacture, from the rough block to the beautifully finished and polished implement. Some rough pieces of nephrite have a cutting-edge ground on one end, but are otherwise unground. These are probably unfinished forms, but still they might have been hafted and used as adzes in that condition. Some specimens have the cutting-edge finished, and the faces and sides half-ground. Others have the blade, face, and back well ground and beautifully smooth and polished, but the sides are still rough, or but half-ground. A considerable number of this type show the two cuts made by sawing, one on either side, and the line of fracture where the piece was broken off.

A number of small pieces of nephrite have a well-ground blade, but the rest of the tool is only partly ground. Some of these have an adze or chisel shaped blade, while others have axe-shaped or cunei-page 252form blades. Most of these items are much thinner, both in body and blade, than those made of other and more easily broken stones, though a thick type of nephrite adze is occasionally seen. All of these diminutive tools must apparently have been hafted and used as adzes. The long form of nephrite chisels may have been used with or without handles.

A fine specimen of nephrite adzes (see Fig. 34, Plate XVIII) is one 10⅝ in. long and 3¼ in. wide across the cutting-edge, from which the curving sides narrow to an almost conical poll. The face is convex both ways, but the longitudinal edges are not rounded, except near the butt end, where they have been bruised or hammered off to accommodate the lashing. The thickness is ⅞ in., which, however, decreases towards the poll. The cutting-edge is very slightly curved, the whole implement being well formed and ground, carrying the high polish peculiar to smoothed surfaces of this stone. Weight, 2½ lb. Angle of inclination of blade, 30°. Sides slope inwards to form a back nearly ¼ in. narrower than the face.

Another specimen, not so well formed and ground, is 7½ in. long, and weighs 1½ lb (see Fig. 35, Plate XVIII). It is 3⅛ in. wide across the cutting-edge, from which its longitudinally curved sides converge to a width of 1½ in. at the poll. The sides are much rounded; in fact, a cross-section would show as an elongated and flattened oval. One side being less curved longitudinally than the other, gives the implement a somewhat lopsided appearance. The face is slightly convex longitudinally, and flat transversely, save for the effect of rounding off the edges by grinding. The back is of a similar form. The blade is of that rare type that has a short bevel and prominent shoulder on both face and back. These bevels are unusually short for a nephrite tool, that of the back being ⅞ in. long, and that of the face ⅝ in. Both of these bevels are peculiar in having very rough surfaces, not caused by ordinary striæ, but showing small axial ridges and grooves, as though caused by grinding the blade by rubbing it on some form of sandstone in which particles of a harder material, such as feldspar, were imbedded. The effect is curious and unusual. These bevels are remarkably abrupt for a nephrite tool, having an angle of inclination of about 45°. The whole of the surfaces have been ground smooth, except the poll and a few hollows which have not been ground out.

A smaller nephrite adze is 5¾ in. long, and weighs 1 lb. It is 2¼ in. wide across the slightly curved cutting-edge, widens to 2 7/16 in. a little way beyond the shoulder, and then narrows off to 1¾ in. at the poll. The face is convex both ways, as also is the back, though to a much less extent. The sides are somewhat convex longitudinally, and page 253rounded transversely. The cutting-edge is slightly curved, and some-what oblique in regard to the axis of the implement. Bevel-angle, about 35°. The whole of this tool has been ground smooth. Thickness, nearly ½ in.

An unusually thick-bladed specimen of nephrite adzes is one 6½ in. long, and weighing 18 oz. (see Fig. 36, Plate XIX). It measures 3 in. across the curved and oblique cutting-edge, its straight sides converging to an irregularly fractured poll. It is 1 in. thick on one side, though somewhat less on the other. The face is much curved longitudinally, the curve being unusually pronounced at the blade end, and is also convex transversely. The back is flat and straight in both directions. The sides are almost straight, one of them showing the two grooves and central fractured surface where the piece of stone was cut off a slab. This fracture is 3/16 in. wide at one end, but thinner at the other end. The face, back, blade, and one side have been ground smooth, but have a much weathered appearance. The longitudinal edges are somewhat rounded, and two deep fracture-surfaces impair the symmetry of this specimen. The blade-bevel on the back is a 1 in. facet, and is abrupt for a nephrite form, showing a prominent shoulder and an angle of about 50°, a high angle for a nephrite blade.

Another medium-sized adze is made of a curiously mottled and streaked variety of nephrite (see Fig. 37, Plate XVIII). It is 7 in. long, and weighs 14 oz. Width across cutting-edge, 2⅛ in., from which the slightly convex sides converge to 1¼ in. at the poll. Face is convex both ways, and marred by hollows showing fracture-surfaces at the butt end, which, however, would be concealed by the lashing. The back is straight lengthwise, but convex transversely. Longitudinal edges rounded, thus a cross-section would present almost the appearance of a flattened oval. All its surfaces are well ground and polished, except the rough poll and the hollows mentioned above. The blade carries an angle of from 30° to 20°.

An unfinished adze (see Fig. 38, Plate XIX) of black nephrite, 6 in. long, 1¼ in. wide, and ¾ in. thick, weighs 9 oz., and has a thick blade. It shows on either side good illustrations of sawing-grooves quite untouched by the grinder. On one side the two grooves are of equal depth, the line of fracture between them being ⅜ in. wide at one end and but ⅛ in. at the other. The sawing process has left the sides of the grooves perfectly smooth and polished. On the other side the two saw-cuts are of unequal depth, one being twice the depth of the other, and the line of fracture is much thinner, being 3/16 in. at one end, while at the other end the two cuts seem to have met.

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In another specimen (Fig. 39, Plate XIX) made from a variety of nephrite showing many white veins, the form is peculiar, and it may have been used as a weapon or ceremonial implement. It is 6¾ in. long, and weighs 7 oz. Width across cutting-edge, 1½ in.; across poll 1¼ in.; thus the sides are nearly parallel. Both face and back are straight longitudinally, and convex transversely. The longitudinal edges are much rounded; and a very wide and shallow groove, presumably an old sawing-cut, runs nearly the whole length of the face, near its middle. This implement is ground smooth all over, save its rough poll and a hollow place on one side. The two blade-bevels are almost equal; thus the slightly rounded cutting-edge is nearly in the axial centre of the adze, as observed in the side view. Thickness, 7/16 in.; blade-angle, about 40°.

The following extract from the Otago Daily Times of the, 3rd November, 1910, is of interest: "Maori curios are always treasured (says the Mataura Ensign), and it was a pleasant surprise to Mr. John Sutherland, of Gore, while digging over some ground on the Mataura river-bank just below the abattoirs one day last week, to unearth a splendid specimen of a greenstone chisel. The implement weights 5 lb., and is 13½ in. long. The shank of the chisel is 3½ in. long, and the blade(?) measures 10 in., the width being 3½ in. The locality has evidently, in the days of long ago, been a camping-place of the Maoris." This is an adze apparently, and is certainly of an unusual size for a nephrite tool. Photographs of this tool, since received, show that it is not a nephrite implement.

A very fine specimen of a nephrite adze in the collection of Judge Chapman is 11 in. long, and weighs 2 lb. (see Fig. 39a, Plate XLVII). It is, as one would expect it to be, much thinner than an adze of ordinary stone of the same length would be, owing to the nephrite being less liable to fracture. The stone is apparently a form of inanga, and is of a light colour. Width across the slightly curved cutting-edge, 2¾ in., from which point the straight sides converge to 1½ in. at the butt end. The poll is not rounded, and shows, apparently, the original surface of the stone from which the tool was made. The adze is of fine form, and well ground to a smooth polished surface. On one side, however, are seen the two saw-cuts, and intermediate line of cleavage, by which the piece was separated from the original block. On the other side appears a faint, short, and smooth groove, whereat the saw-cut has not been quite ground out. The face is convex both ways, and finely polished. At ½ in. from the poll begins a slight depression on the face, which continues for 2½ in. This has been made by rubbing the tool sideways on a grinding-stone of that width, as evidenced by the transverse striæ. page 255This slight depression has been made to facilitate lashing, and was formed by grinding, because nephrite does not lend itself to pecking, as do most other stones. This hollowed space for the lashing is most unusual in nephrite adzes. The smooth polished side is somewhat convex, both longitudinally and laterally, while that on which the line of cleavage has only partially been ground out is almost straight. The sides incline inwards, and reduce the width of the back to ½ in. less than that of the face. The back, face, and one side are superbly smoothed and polished throughout their entire length. Remains to finish the grinding of the other side. The longitudinal edges are sharply defined. The blade is thin and well formed, the face thereof convex, and the back straight transversely. The cutting-edge is keen and slightly curved. The angle of inclination is 40° near the cutting-edge and 20° higher up the blade. The tool carries no marked shoulder, the curve of the blade merging gradually into the longitudinal flat straight back in such a manner that the actual point of impingement cannot be satsifactorily located by the eye.

A small specimen of a nephrite adze is one of a very light-coloured variety of that stone (see Fig. 40, Plate XIX), a light-grey colour. It is 3½ in. long, and weighs 2 oz. Width across its oblique cutting-edge, 1 in., while the width of the poll has been about ⅝ in. or ¾ in., but from which a piece has been broken off. Both face and back are flat both ways. The sides are straight longitudinally, rounded transversely, and 7/16 in. thick. The blade is comparatively long, and shows an angle of 40°. The straight but obliquely set cutting-edge is exceptionally keen. This little tool is very well ground.

A diminutive specimen of nephrite adzes is one 2 in. long, and weighing a scant ounce (see Fig. 41, Plate XIX). It is ⅞ in. wide at the cutting-edge, and ¾ in. at the butt end, near the poll. It is ⅜ in. thick, and carries a thick blade, with an angle of about 40°. It is very symmetrical and well finished, save the jagged rough poll.

Another one is made of dark-green nephrite, is 2 in. long, ⅝ in. to ¾ in. wide, and 3/16 in. thick. It weighs ½ oz., and carries a blade of the same form as that of a steel adze.

The following description fits a good many small nephrite adzes (see Fig. 42, Plate XIX): It is a short, wide form. Length, 2¼ in. Width across cutting-edge, 1 11/16 in.; near poll, 1 in. Weight, 2 oz. Thickness, 7/16 in. at shoulder, 5/16 in. at butt end. Well ground and smooth on all surfaces except the poll. Sides straight, but of different angles. Cutting-edge straight, but somewhat oblique. Blade, thick; angles, 50°.

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A still more awkward one to lash on a handle is 1¾ in. long, and 1 11/16 in. wide at the cutting-edge, and 1⅜ in. at the poll, the thickness being 3/16 in. or a fraction over.

One marvels how some of the small adze-shaped tools can have been hafted and used. One such is ¾ in. long and ⅝ in. wide, and has a well-ground cutting-edge. Another is 1½ in. long and ⅝ in. wide.

Nephrite was a material prized by the Maori wherefrom to fashion adzes for hewing a smooth face on timbers that had been rough-hewn with thick-bladed adzes of common stone, because a much thinner blade could be carried on an adze made of the tough nephrite, hence the saying of the men of old, "E hara! He mata toki onewa hapurupuru marire, kapataua he mata toki pounamu, e tu te tatai o te whakairo." The above saying implies that the thick-bladed adze of common stone can never equal the thin-bladed keen-edged nephrite adze for fine neat work. It was used as an expression of the fact that a common person can never equal a high-born chief in ability, &c.

Some of the many nephrite adzes in the Buller Collection carry a very low blade-angle and keen cutting-edge. Thus, one shows an angle of 30°, another about 28°, and yet another is little over 25°. Some of these tools are 6 in. to 7 in. long and but ½ in. in thickness. Carrying so thin a blade as many do, and with the keen cutting-edge, it is certain that very good work in timber-dressing might be done.

It is curious to note that very few of these prized nephrite adzes are so well formed and finished as the better type of those fashioned from common stone. Possibly this is on account of the material being so difficult to work. One of the items, a fine nephrite adze 9½ in. long, is pierced at the poll for suspension, the hole having been bored in a somewhat clumsy manner very close to the end. Another is a wide, thin form, 14 in. long, 4½ in. wide across the blade, and but ¾ in. in thickness. The cutting-edge has been entirely broken off, but all fractured surfaces are smooth, apparently the result of wind-driven sand, or of drifting in a river-bed. Weight, 4¼ lb.