Volume 33 1924 > Volume 33, No. 129 > Excavations near the mouth of the Shag River, Otago, by David Tediotdale, p 1-10
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I HAVE been asked to write an account of excavations at the mouth of the Shag River.

I began collecting there about ten years ago. I visited the site at irregular intervals, generally after heavy gales, which blew the surface sand away so that I found a good many objects of Maori manufacture. For the first four or five years I carried a small weeding fork with which I scratched in likely looking places with some success, but soon found the work too hard for such an implement, so started work with a spade. At first I dug out middens, but was not very successful, so searched for signs of huts and then had better luck. For the first few years I thought of nothing but finding curios.

About 1920 I got in touch with Mr. Skinner, who advised me to dig systematically and to keep a diary, with plans and sections whenever possible, and to catalogue all finds. This I did, and I have given the diaries to the Hocken Library, and have lent the bulk of my finds to the Otago University Museum.

The digging was done with no system; any likely spot would be dug over, and then I would move on to another, but as time went on the patches became connected, till practically the whole site has been covered. It has taken all my spare time for the last four years, and though I can give no estimate of the actual working time, nearly three acres of ground have been turned over. In some places carrying several feet of drift sand I used a long-handled shovel to clear the top, and the spade in the Maori deposit underneath.

The camp is situated on the western side of a low range of sandhills running northward from the high ground on the south side of the Shag River mouth. As to the size of the camp, Mr Henare Rehu, of Moeraki, told me that the - 4 Maoris never had a permanent settlement in this locality, but only camped there, fishing at certain times of the year. His mother as a young girl had been among the last of the campers there. Rehu is now about seventy years of age. I have taken the fence of the Bushey Park estate as a starting point, and measured along a line, commencing 25 paces east of the gate and running north towards a rock below the cliffs on the far side of the estuary. This line passes about 18 paces east of the boat pool, and measures 276 paces to the edge of high tide level, and 16 paces more to the edge of the submerged tract, making 292 paces in all. The camp averages some 66 paces in width. I have divided the site into 8 sections, and will deal with each in turn. As a rule the deposit yielding evidence of human occupation is shallow, varying from a few inches to 2½ feet. In one or two places it much exceeds this, particularly at the eastern end of Section I., but the levelling for a miner's hut and Booth's excavations have tumbled this place, until it is very difficult to judge the real depth. In one place I found the moa bones resting on a layer of fish scales, and in some middens they were distributed through the refuse from top to bottom; but in others they were in the lowest layer only. Associated with them at different points I have found seal and dog and bird bones, and in the lowest layer large fragments of quartzite or chert, the majority of which are evidently knives, while some seem to have been spear points. These flakes, which are very common all over the camp, are of all colours and sizes. A lot of the quartzite resembles some that is common about Hyde, but I do not know of any in situ in the Shag Valley district. Small flakes of obsidian are not uncommon; also Dentalum shells, evidently used as ornaments. I have found these thrust one within another, also oyster shells pierced for pendants. Hematite in small pieces is occasionally found, and a few pieces of pumice. Round stones grooved for sinkers are very common, but no weapons (other than adzes) and no tikis have been found to my knowledge. Greenstone is not uncommon, and I found one polished piece below a bed containing moa bones.

From my own observations and the reports of others who have dug at the Shag River site, I judge the bones of hundreds of moas have been brought to light there. I believe that the great majority of the moas were actually killed and eaten by the Maoris.

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Section 1.—This measures 47 paces along central line to edge of “Workshop,” by 44 paces east and west. The eastern side is the highest point of the camp and is evidently the spot where Booth dug his deep trenches. Here I dug into worked ground in several places, and the old work went deeper than any of mine. Below the layer I worked is a jumbled layer of oven stones and loose sand with a few ashes, and I just poked a hole through it here and there. Near the highest point are the walls of a hut built by a miner named Smith. Near it, on the south side, Gilmore and I found a Maori fireplace made of a circle of basaltic boulders instead of a square of sandstone slabs as is usually the case. Here we found three good adzes (Nos. 21, 22, and 102), a greenstone pendant, with serrated edge, and some good hook points. These were covered with several feet of drifted sand. On the north side of the miner's hut is a large shell heap with a few moa bones in it. Here I found a human jaw-bone (lower) and some ribs and vertebrae—the only human bones I found on the site. In this heap I got a badly damaged and burnt greenstone adze and some hook points. Below the miner's hut to the boundary of the next section, Section 1 is mostly covered with oven refuse, varying from a few inches to 1½ feet in depth, and containing little but some flint flakes and scattered moa bones; it has evidently been much disturbed by former diggers. Near the centre of boundary line D. McDonald dug up the finest adze found on Shag River camp. It was near a fireplace, and was associated with some large quartzite flakes. Between Smith's hut and Bushey Park fence was another fireplace, where I secured several rings made of Dentalium shell with grooves cut round them. East of this a fishing party dug out a large number of moa bones, but got nothing else. At the back of the hut a shallow deposit of shells, etc., runs east for some 30 feet, and is covered with several feet of sand. I dug out most of it, but found nothing except a one-piece hook in perfect order. Twice I broke into other digging, probably Booth's.

Section 2.—The north and south boundaries are the same as in Section 1, but it is on lower ground and to the west. It is 47 paces long and 41 paces east and west. Just below the Bushey gate is a small midden in which I found a well-made minnow of reddish stone, with the bone point in position. Beside this there were in this midden some small - 6 chisels and a number of broken pieces. North-east of it were the disturbed stones of a fireplace. A few paces lower is the south end of Hamilton's work. In the shallow deposit south and west of his work Gilmore and I found several small adzes, and an immense number of chert or quartzite flakes of all colours, shapes, and sizes mingled with moa bones. From somewhere on this section Shag Point miners tell me that several truck loads of moa bones were dug out and afterwards sent to the Dunedin bone mills by a man named Hollis. On Hamilton's plan he shows an unfinished part, with note that it is 4 feet deep. There is a hollow place here from which I think Hollis may have taken the bones as I can find no other place four feet deep around Hamilton's work. Above this, at the edge of the “Workshop,” was a fireplace, and here I found a small adze and a pawa shell, containing two drill points, and a piece of flattened bone with holes partly drilled through it. Evidently the shell had been used as a receptacle to hold the articles.

Section 3.—Boundary to line touching south side of clay knob, 50 paces north along central line and 68 paces east and west. The lower south edge of this section takes in the north end of Hamilton's work, and here I found two bone pendants—one a long narrow one, and the other a rough copy of the stone minnows. They were some yards apart. Along the western edge there is a blank space, then a small midden reaches the south side of the clay knob. Here D. McDonald found two polished black stone adzes of small size, and a minnow. They were associated with moa bones, but apart from this, we did not take particular notice of their position. The ground rises eastward, and just on the south edge were three fireplaces a few yards apart. Here I found several good adzes of common stone and three greenstone chisels, one about four inches long by one inch wide. Just above those huts is the spot which from the number of articles found there we call “the Workshop.” The wind had blown the sand away exposing the articles. Above here are the fireplaces of two more huts, but I got very little round them. Near one of them I found the rotten end of a stake about three inches thick and eighteen inches long, and roughly pointed. North of the Workshop is a large shell heap in which I found very little, and I think it has been turned over before. Round the edges I found some very fine bone - 7 articles and several small greenstone carving chisels. There was a fireplace north of this heap, but I got nothing near it. On the eastern edge is another shell heap covered with up to five feet of drifted sand, but I got nothing in it. About a foot above the shells in one place was a small oven. In another place near was a fireplace, but no relics. Between these two shell heaps is a fair amount of ground covered with ovens, going several feet in depth. On the northern edge of this I found lying in a heap the bones of several skeletons of moan, as if the carcases had been flung together and left unused. The edge of a large midden extending into Section 4 lay over these bones. On the eastern side I found some bone hook-points and a large piece of pumice with a groove cut across it.

Section 4.—35 paces north from the south boundary to an east-west line with south side of Tussock Point. 72 paces east and west. Part of the large shell heap mentioned above is the east side of this section, and is the last place where the camp touches the sandhills. Here I found the largest fish-hook I have. Beside a fireplace I found two perfect adzes of basalt and a small greenstone one. Extending from here right across the section and downwards to the clay knob is a large deposit of oven refuse, which I often refer to in my notes as “the central midden.” Along the eastern edge of this are the disturbed stones of three fire places, but as the wind had stripped a long belt of sand around them I found very little here. Nearer the clay knob was a fireplace and some ash heaps, and here Gilmore and I found several good adzes and bone hooks, etc. Gilmore here found a very large unfinished hook. On the south-western edge of the section is the clay knob, and here I found near a small oven a number of objects, including a polished gouge, a minnow of red-spotted white stone, and a large grindstone. All the articles of this group are now exhibited together in the University Museum. The oven and implements were buried under a shallow deposit of moa bones and shells, a continuation of the midden in Section 3, where McDonald found some adzes. In a small hollow was a fireplace on one side of which were three well-made sinkers, and on the other side three schist files of large size. Along the western foot of the knob is swampy ground, with a shallow deposit of bones and shells, but there I got nothing but flakes of chert and quartzite. Along the northern side of the knob are old - 8 workings, probably Hamilton's. Below this is a swampy and tussock covered flat, where the bones were all burnt and broken. Here Gilmore found two unfinished adzes.

Section 5.—50 paces north to south end of miner's hut; 57 paces east and west. A strip of wind blown sand separates the eastern side from the sandhills. Along this edge were six fireplaces, but few artifacts were found. At one spot were the crumbling remains of a human skeleton. About 10 paces south of miner's hut is a shell heap, from which I got two large half-made hooks and two small green-stone chisels. Near a fireplace I got a lot of fragments of a moa's egg lying together, as if the egg had been crushed. There must have been the greater part of the shell here. I have found small fragments of shell elsewhere, but this is the only spot where any quantity lay together. Lower down is a small damp patch of ground, and here was the largest undisturbed moa bone deposit I have found anywhere on the Shag River site. This deposit extends to south and western edge of Section 6. It was shallow, not more than 2½ feet at its deepest, and probably averaging 18 inches. In one place I found three large pelvic bones lying on top of each other. Shells and bones of dog, seal, fish and birds were mixed with the moa bones. At one spot the moa bones were lying on a thin layer of fish scales. Here I found a dog's skull embedded in the sand under the moa bones. I found no implements in this heap except some large flake knives. At one side, but clear of the bones, I found a very fine greenstone carving chisel and on the western edge Gilmore and I found a number of fish hooks and a few small chisels. On the south side of this midden were four fireplaces in a row, and round these we found a number of good adzes. One (No. 11) found by Gilmore is a particularly fine specimen. It is made of white stone. Just south of this line of huts is a large midden where, under a layer of moa bones, I found a flake of polished greenstone, and on the west side of the midden I found two greenstone adzes lying one on top of the other, and a third one a few inches away. In the centre of the midden I found a polished adze of a grey stone with black streaks through it, and in and around the midden Gilmore and I found several adzes and a number of good hook points, etc. The evidence of the moa hunters being in the same stage of culture as the Maori was conclusive - 9 in this midden. This heap is on the east end of a narrow strip of dry land that runs some distance across the swamp. I have called this strip Tussock Point. At the northern end of section is another shell heap. Here I got a great deal of worked bone, two common adzes, one greenstone chisel, a minnow and two large grindstones.

Section 6.—60 paces from south end of miner's hut to northern edge of shell heap above the boat pool; 51 paces east and west. There were four fireplaces along the eastern edge and the scattered and burnt remains of a human skeleton. In front of the miner's hut was a large fireplace. Here I found a large unfinished adze, a stone shaped like a top, several bone fish-hook points and a small greenstone chisel. Lower down were three fireplaces. Round one in a space about ten feet square Gilmore and I found three adzes (one under the ashes of the fireplace), five sinkers, a minnow, and fifteen drill points and several bone points. Further north were three fireplaces, where I got some fair adzes, and then there is a large shell heap. Here I found the largest and finest minnow I have and the blade of a large axe (not adze). Below this heap was a fireplace, where I got a small greenstone adze with grooves to hold the cord binding. Along the north-west side of this section the deposit dips into the swampy ground covered toy water at spring tides. Along this edge was a thick deposit, where I found a small wooden bowl and a notched stick, both now in the University Museum. With these was a lot of rotten bark, flax, rushes, chips of wood and some small pieces of squared wood, which were too rotten to lift. Further out below high tide level, are the remains of ovens with moa bones around. Except in this low lying spot moa bones are not plentiful in this section, and Gilmore and I considered this the more modern portion of the camp. On the bank close to where I found the bowl was a fireplace, and we found two nice adzes near it. In the rotten flax was a small greenstone chisel. Among the oven refuse further out I found a greenstone pendant and a broken adze.

Section 7.—From shell heap to edge of bay 34 paces. A good deal of this section has been blown bare by the wind There is very little deposit, and I have found nothing here.

Section 8.—A long strip along southern edge of the bay, covered by every tide and washed clear of everything except stones. 33 paces at its widest part. I think this is the - 10 small flat spoken of by Von Haast, but washed away since his time. The tide is steadily encroaching here, and in one place has washed away several yards in the last five years. Digging in the clay I have found moa bones, but all decayed and spongy. Flint flakes are scattered around and I have found several small chisels (one of greenstone) and some small pieces of greenstone, drill points, etc. Embedded in the clay I found a tree trunk 27 feet long and about 8 inches in diameter at the thick end, a large broad-leaf log, and also one or two bones, probably of a small whale.

The commonest form of fish-hook found here is the plain curved one, for the point of a barracouta hook and the broken shanks of one-piece hooks are common. Schist or quartzite drill points are very common. I have over two hundred of them, and have given many away. Leg and wing bones of birds ground to a sharp point to pick out shellfish were common, and I have found one containing needles and another used as a sheath for a sharp pointed bone. These were found near the midden at the end of Tussock Point. Not far from this midden we found a round stone about 14 inches long by about 4 inches thick, set up on end as if marking something, but could find nothing near it. Another about the same length, but flat, was set up the same way in the tide washed part, but nothing could be found. The shells in the middens are mostly cockle and pipi, but in some places periwinkle and mussel predominate. Pawa shells are there too, and on one occasion I found three placed one within another.

I am indebted to Mr. H. D. Skinner for advice as to methods of recording the results of excavations, for typed copies of all literature relating to the site, and for general information and encouragement. The keeping of records which make the present article possible is due entirely to him. I am also greatly indebted to Mr. Alex. Gilmore, of Palmerston, for assistance in digging. Mr. Gilmore came with me day after day, sharing good weather and bad, and adding everything he found to my collection.

This concludes a very imperfect account of the excava tions done on Shag River Camp, but seeing how little record has been kept by others more qualified than I to report on these things, perhaps mine may fill a gap.

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FIG. 1—A, B, C, three adzes found below Moa bones.
O.U.M. Coll. and pres. Sir Frederick Chapman. Scale ⅓