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Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs


The terrace country at Clarence River, seaward Kai Kōura Range in distance

The terrace country at Clarence River, seaward Kai Kōura Range in distance

The best researched gardening sites at Clarence River lie on the low coastal strip inland of the road and on the margins and south of the prominent bush-filled gully (centre right) in the high terrace. They do not show in this photograph, but are depicted in a photograph elsewhere in this chapter.

page 195

A brief description of the physical setting of sites in the South Island is difficult because of its-size and topographical complexity. The island is characterised by a complex spine of high ranges in the west and low-lying plains in the central eastern portions. The latitudinal range of the island, coupled with the mountainous topography, is such that there are distinct climatic differences between northern and southern parts, and western and eastern. To the west, rainfall is abundant; in the east, seasonally dry conditions prevail and areas of grassland occupy the broad areas of plains. In the south, mean temperatures are lower than in the north. As in the North Island, the coastal strip and river valleys were dominant in determining settlement pattern. Earth ovens from the earliest periods have been frequently recorded and excavated on the outer reaches of estuaries and on river terraces inland. Inland trips to hunt moa or gather stone also appear to have been common.

In this chapter the principal themes to be covered are the restrictions on population growth in the South Island and its effects on the visible archaeological landscape; moa and moa hunting, particularly at the major river mouths such as Wairau Bar and Waitaki River mouth; horticulture in gardens defined by stone rows; page 196
The Wairau estuary and bar

The Wairau estuary and bar

The moa-hunter site complex lies at the inner edge of the bar, by the prominent trees surrounding the homestead just above centre at the modern entrance to the estuary. Old distributary channels, intersected by modern river channels, are prominent above the estuary at lower left. The view is from the south.

page 197

A closer view of the modern entrance to the Wairau estuary. The site lay over the broad evenly grassed area on the inner side of the bar, nearest the camera. The initial finds were made in the course of ploughing this area in the 1940s. The later excavations of Roger Duff and Jim Eyles in the band of ovens show as a rectangular patch with interior mounds near the edge of the estuary. There appears to have been long and continuing erosion of the inner edge of the bar, cutting into the full extent of the site, and leaving a tiny island (middle foreground).

page 198
Wairau Bar

Wairau Bar

The site of Roger Duff and Jim Eyles' excavations at Wairau Bar. The original excavation squares created the distinct rectangular outline while the undulations result from backfilling from adjacent squares.

page 199 the relative lack of substantial pre-European earthwork pā; and the Ngāi Tahu pā of the mid-Canterbury region, attacked by Ngāti Toa under Te Rauparaha in 1829-30.

The principal tribe associated with the South Island is Ngāi Tahu, descended from the great canoes of the eastern North Island, Horouta and Tākitimu. The descent lines are linked with those of Ngāti Porou, Ngāti Kahungūnu and Rangitāne. 1 In the nineteenth century, there were incursions of Taranaki and Waikato iwi into the northern South Island, part of the general southwards movement into Cook Strait. The earliest traditions can be read in the naming of Banks Peninsula, Te Pātaka a Te Rākaihautū, the storehouse of Rākaihautū. Lake Ellesmere immediately to the south was Te Kete Ika ō Rākaihautū, the fish basket of Rākaihautū. Rākaihautū was also the creator and namer of the great southern lakes. 2

The South Island occupies only a single chapter of this book because it has far fewer archaeological sites than the North Island. Sites in the South Island tend to have less visibility in the landscape than in the North Island, and the main reason is the paucity of highly visible pā and horticultural sites of the late pre-European period. I discussed in chapter 2 why the readily visible sites in the north tend to be late in age. In the North Island, horticulture was important because it was essential to sustain large numbers of people. The essential factor making horticulture possible in the north was climate, especially the length of the growing season needed for the pre-European root crops. Production was virtually limitless, provided the effort was made to cultivate. When James Cook and his fellow observers commented on the eastern North Island, they noted the numbers of people. It seems that the horticultural capacity of the North Island made it possible to sustain large numbers of people there late in the pre-European period. At the time of early settlement, when number of immigrants and not natural increase was the relevant factor, the population in the South Island was probably the same as, or even outnumbered, that in the North Island. 3 As time went by the numbers in the north far outgrew those in the south, as the latter reached (and may indeed have lowered) its carrying capacity.

When people first visit a new environment, they may take some time to adjust to its advantages and difficulties. For tropical Polynesians, the difficulties of New Zealand after an arduous voyage must have been great. On arrival, the obvious response is to take food from the easiest, most productive and most accessible sources. In New Zealand, that food was meat, and it came in the form of moa and other land birds, fish and sea mammals. Moa had never been hunted by any other animal, and they were probably naive in their attitude to aggressive human predators. 4 Moa were also abundant in the South Island, particularly in their preferred habitat of grassland plains and open forest—a habitat not as common in the North Island as it was in the South Island. Sea mammal colonies, such as that illustrated in chapter 15, were distributed around the New Zealand coast, but with greater numbers in the south, since these are animals that range in the sub-polar oceans for the most part. 5 The South Island was therefore a very attractive initial habitat for the small numbers of people who first arrived. Even at the low level of population prevailing in the South Island, however, the first Polynesians hunted and reduced the animal populations, leading eventually to the extinction of moa and a loss of breeding colonies of seals and other species. The overall result was that in the South Island, with at best only marginal horticultural opportunities, there was never the longer-term potential for population numbers that existed in the North Island. A greater proportion of the South Island sites, compared with the North Island, may therefore be earlier.

This leads to an important consequence for illustration in this book. None of these activities, seal and moa butchery and consumption, have left much that is as accessible to aerial photography as the abundant pā and pits of the North Island. However, both the general ecological setting of important sites, and the potential abundance of prey such as seals or fledgling birds (such as mutton-birds) can be illustrated, as we saw in chapter 5. Wairau Bar, a locality for moa butchery and consumption, is illustrated here. The site itself is complex, covering some 3 ha, and lies on the inner edge of the southern point of the Wairau River entrance. 6 Ploughing in the early 1940s revealed many artefacts and brought the site to the attention of the Canterbury Museum. Further hand excavation by Roger Duff, Jim Eyles, Owen Wilkes, Michael Trotter and others was carried out up until about page 200 1964. 7 This work, reviewed recently by Atholl Anderson, showed that a band of ovens lay near the lagoon edge while closer to the sea there was an extensive area of huts and other habitation evidence. The site contained much moa bone and shell: 25 tonnes of moa bone, and some 1,600 tonnes of marine shell, so the proportion of moa meat in the diet was not necessarily very high. At the southern end of the site was an extensive area of human burials. 8 Aerial photographs show the estuarine setting of the site, and the dimpled low relief of the backfilled area of hand excavation conducted by Roger Duff and Jim Eyles still shows clearly.

Further south, at the mouth of the Waitaki River, ovens used for cooking moa showed clearly in oblique photographs taken in the early 1960s. The wider site covered an area of 10 ha on the river terraces 1 km south of the point where the river now enters the sea. Because of the extreme rate of coastal erosion, there is no estuary at the Waitaki River mouth, and access to the site must have been over a bar directly up a fast-flowing river. The most valued parts of moa were probably transported down river, perhaps down the now abandoned river channels which show in the aerial photographs. Unlike Wairau Bar, the Waitaki River mouth may not have been permanently settled; there is insufficient evidence of substantial houses or the artefacts associated with permanent settlement such as adzes. 9 The ovens show very clearly in the photograph in chapter 5 because the area has a thin topsoil on a stony subsoil in which the ovens had been built. The area of the ovens had been little cultivated, 10 and the ploughing of 1960 in effect exposed their image in the soil.

With the exception of a site at the Heaphy River mouth, pre-European settlement on the West Coast of the South Island has been very little investigated until recently. Ray Hooker has now established the existence of sites on the many estuarine banks and river mouths along the coast. These are in natural environments almost unaltered since the time of occupation, with extensive, scrub-covered shorelines, many freshwater lakes and, not far inland from the settlements, the fringe of productive lowland podocarp forests. A photograph of a not untypical setting, north of the Haast River, is in chapter 2.