Maori Artifacts Indicate Early Polynesian Settlement on New Zealand Island
Live Science reports that a team of archaeologists in New Zealand has been untangling the mysteries of an early Polynesian settlement near the northern tip of the islands that could have been discovered by some of the first Polynesians to step foot on the region almost seven centuries ago.
Artifacts Examined for the First Time Nearly 40 Years After they were Found
The archaeological site, positioned beside a beach at Mangahawea Bay on Moturua Island, nearly 124 miles (200 kilometers) north of the city of Auckland, is not unfamiliar to archaeologists as it was first excavated by a researching team from the University of Auckland in 1981 as Live Science reports .
Even though previous research on the bones of Polynesian dogs ("kuri" in Maori) discovered at the site was published a few years after its initial excavation (1981), most things regarding the excavation weren’t recorded in written form, and most information about the archaeological works that took place at the site has gone unpublished for nearly 36 years now. "Everyone's known about it, everyone knows that it's potentially important, but no one's actually been able to do any work on it,” Andrew Blanshard told Live Science , a ranger for New Zealand’s Department of Conservation, who launched the works that led to the latest dig at Moturua Island in February of this year.
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Part of the excavation area along the northern side of a seasonal unnamed stream, Mangahawea Bay (Credit: Heritage New Zealand )
Finally, some of the artifacts found on the site during the 1981 excavations, along with bone fish hooks, shell fragments and the bones of animals discovered in a stone-lined underground oven, will be examined by experienced scientists for the first time, as Blanshard told Live Science . “This is part of an effort to determine if the site may have once been home to some of the first Polynesians to settle in New Zealand, which is thought to have been in the late 13th century,” he added.
Pendant’s Origin Puzzle Researchers
Some of the most important finds at the site include the cooked remains of seals, shellfish and moa, the country’s largest flightless bird that is now extinct. However, the thing that caught the researchers’ attention the most is a type of shell used for the creation of a pendant discovered at the site in 1981. The shell appears to be a species of pearl oyster, a tropical shellfish that is not found in cold New Zealand waters, as the researchers said. That could mean that if the shell in the pendant is verified to be mother-of-pearl, then it could easily have been brought to New Zealand by some of the very earliest settlers from tropical parts of Polynesia. Blanshard, who became curious about this archaeological "cold case" when he aided the building of a walking track around the island in 2006, is being calm for now and tells Live Science , "At this stage, it's still very much a wish, rather than something we can prove."
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Example of a pearl oyster shell of the type that can be found in Fiji and Tahiti ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
The excavation works at Moturua Island earlier in 2017 was a cooperation between New Zealand's Department of Conservation, the government agency Heritage New Zealand, archaeologists from the University of Otago at Dunedin in the South Island, and two local Maori clans: Ngati Kuta and Patu Keha.
Heritage New Zealand archaeologist James Robinson, who directed the most recent dig on Moturua Island, stated that the active participation of the native Maori helped his team to understand better the different functional areas of the site, such as the structures of buried storage pits for sweet potatoes, also known as kumara. “We're happy at this stage to say that we're dealing with what's sometimes referred to as an archaic [Maori] or an early Polynesian site," Robinson told Live Science and also added that despite carbon dating on several items recovered during the latest dig, will not be completed for several months.
Archaeologists John Coster and Dave Veart, along with local volunteer Jack Kemp, examine the re-opened excavation unit from 1981. (Credit: Heritage New Zealand )
Ultimately, the most recent excavation works uncovered clear signs of archaeological layers that indicate that the site was inhabited sequentially during different periods of Maori cultural development, an uncommon thing for New Zealand’s culture, where many early sites were often deserted soon after a local resource was exhausted, as Robinson suggests.
Original research from Moturua Island’s dig was presented at an archaeological conference in New Zealand earlier this year, while scientific documents about the findings, integrating the work conducted by the 1981 and 2017 dig teams, are currently being organized for publication, "It's an interesting site — it's one that deserved the attention that led to it being excavated in 1981, but it's really important that these things do get published and analyzed properly," Robinson told Live Science , pointing out the need that these finds finally get the cover and publicity they deserve.
Top image: Maori Warrior (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )