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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Age of the Art

Age of the Art.

As to the date at which the Maoris commenced to work greenstone, we have only the uncertain traditions which I have already narrated. It is very probable, however, that the North Island had been long colonised before it was known. This would still he probable even if credit could be given to the story of Ngahue bringing back a single stone to Hawaiki, and making implements and ornaments of it, a story which Mr. Tregear thinks we probably do not rightly understand, for the place where that stone was obtained would have to be discovered anew. Mr. Stack thinks, as will be seen from his answers (Nos. 4 and 5), that Ngatiwairangi occupied the West Coast in very early times, and that the story told him at the Thames that a hei-tiki held by the natives there iras brought by their ancestor Marutuahu from Hawaiki may indicate that some of the Taranaki and Cook Strait people obtained greenstone from these Ngatiwairangi at a very early date, long before it became widely known. This seems very probable, as Ngatiwairangi, working up only small quantities, would not for a long time push a very active trade, and would probably keep the secret of the locality where the stone was found. It did not, in all probability, get extensively into use until visitors were allowed to seare h for it and carry it away in bulk, or came as invaders and did this without permission; though no doubt travellers from the greenstone coast spread a certain amount among their distant friends and relatives. "Not-withstanding," says Cook, "the divided and hostile state in which the New-Zealanders live, travelling strangers who come with no ill-design are well received and entertained during their stay, which, however, it is expected will be no longer than is requisite to transact the business they; come upon. Thus it is that a trade for poenanmoo, or green talc, is carried on throughout the whole Northern Island."

If it be the case that the Waitaha, who, according to Mr. Stack, must have flourished in this Island before 1577, and whose destruction by Ngatimamoe began about that date, were the people who destroyed the moa (Dinornis) and the pouakai (Harpagornis), then there is some evidence, though it cannot be deemed very satisfactory, that the Waitaha had something to do with greenstone. The recent observations of page 19 Mr. H. O. Forbes at Monck's Cave, Banks Pensinsula, point in this direction. The cave was at some remote period closed by a landslip and for many years the colonists have carted away the slipped material for road-making. In this way the existence of the cave was discovered quite recently. The cave was found to be in the condition in which its Maori inhabitants had temporarily left it when the slip occurred. On the floor were found beautifully-made implements of greenstone. Scattered about were numerous largish fragments of moo-bone, and fish-hooks and barbed spear-tips of the same material. On the surface were bones of swans, a bird extinct beyond the memory of man in New Zealand. "Just below the surface of an untouched part of the midden," says Mr. Forbes (Trans: N.Z. Inst., vol. xxiii., p. 374), "I myself picked out pieces of moa-egg shells, each with its internal epidermis perfectly preserved."

Whatever other evidence there may be, there is nothing in this absolutely to refute the idea that these objects may have lain for generations—perhaps for centuries—in a dry cave to which the air had so little access that its dryness was always preserved, as even in the destructive climate of Punk Island the eggshell of the great auk is sometimes found when taken from the ground to have the epidermis still adhering to it It can only be offered as suggesting that the owners of these implements knew the moa and its eggs. Mr. Forbes has kindly given me the opportunity of inspecting the eggshell in his possession. The pieces are small, and if preserved in undisturbed dry ground may be very old. The greenstone objects in the Christchurch Museum taken from this cave are indistinguishable from those constantly found in Maori camps.

The character of the objects found in the cave shows that the inhabitants were probably North Island Maoris; and von Haast long ago found that the articles in the neighbouring Sumner Cave, left there by a people contemporaneous with the moa, pointed in the same direction, being made of wood growing exclusively in the North Island.

If this be so they were probably visitors from Cook Strait. As von Haast did not find greenstone among the objects referred to, it is on the whole more probable that that found in Monck's Cave belonged to a people of later date, who in using the cave had not greatly disturbed the relics of its former denizens. The evidence derived from the state of the eggshells must therefore be regarded as inconclusive.

In a somewhat extensive examination of the great beds of moa-bones at Shag Point, which Mr. A. Hamilton and I made in January, 1891, he found one piece of greenstone. It is 6in. in length by 1½in. in width and fin, thick, and is of a tolerably page 20 good quality of kawakawa. It bore no distinct resemblance to any familiar implement, being more like one of the rubbers or polishers which we find in numbers there, having the two opposite broader sides distinctly concave. I do not agree with Mr. Hamilton in thinking that it has been used as a sharpening-stone for putting a final edge or polish on implements, as I do not know of any stone in the polishing of which greenstone won Id offer any advantage for such a purpose over common sandstone-I find, moreover, on submitting it to inspection by means of a hand-glass that it has been shaped by grinding by means of a coarse hoanga or sandstone; that the stri æ mu across it at an angle of 45°, as is usual with unfinished greenstone implements; and that these traces of workmanship nut over every part of it evenly, which would not be the case had it been used as a tool merely. It has been sharpened by means of considerable labour, and is of great interest, asís was found imbedded in the great bed of moa-bones broken by human hands, in a zone where, amid masses of fractured bones, implements of moa-bone and cut fragments were also found.

Though no greenstone has ever been reported from this zone, the situation was such as to satisfy Mr. Hamilton and myself that those who fed upon the moas—who it is now universally admitted used polished-stone implements, of-which we found a few fragments—also knew and worked greenstone, though probably only as a very rare stone received through the indirect channels already suggested. It is, of course, very difficult to exclude every possibility of error, but we could neither see nor conceive any, though we carefully directed our attention to the subject at the time. The only source of error we could imagine was that it was possibly buried in a hole dug for the purpose; but its situation rendered this extremely improbable. Indeed, we found none of the indicia of secondary displacement of the heap there or in any part. The broken moa bones were interlaced over the implement in the same way as elsewhere. It was several feet under the surface, and within a few inches of the sand-bed on which the mass of bones lay, and in the near neighbourhood we found many moa-skulls, attached to long strings of vertebrie, lying in situ.

In von Haast's case in the Christchurch Museum, devoted exclusively to Shag Point, among a collection of schist drills, implements of moa-bone, 4c, are three very small polished greenstone chisels of kawakawa and a larger one of an inferior stone. There is no label to explain from what Me they were taken—and greenstone objects are often found on the surface there—and the ordinary presumption would be that he placed them in that case with objects which he page 21 formerly insisted were not relics of the Maoris, but of an older raes of moa-hunters, as being of contemporaneous origin with those objects. However, for what it is worth, I should mention that von Haast has placed the chert knives on one side of this case, and has marked them from the moa-hunters' encampment.