Volume 35 1926 > Volume 35, No. 138 > A recently-discovered carved stone figure, by Gilbert Archey, p 150-152
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- 150

THE elaborately-carved stone figure here described was found in a drainage excavation in Onewa Road, North-cote, Auckland, by a Maori workman. Mr. E. O. Clayton, the Borough Council Supervisor, who was present at the time, recognised its importance, and notified the Museum of the discovery of the figure, which was at once acquired by Mr. H. E. Vaile, and presented by him to the Museum.

The figure was discovered at a depth of 4 feet 6 inches below the original level of the ground, i.e., three feet below the present road level, which at this point is 1 foot 6 inches below the original turf level. It stood upright in the stiff red clay, which, in this district, underlies about nine inches of loam and extends to a depth of at least 10 feet from the surface. If, therefore, it was purposely placed here, as is likely, the owner must have been at considerable pains to conceal it.

It is composed of a soft weathered decite, a rock which, Mr. Bartrum who kindly identified it, informs me is to be found at Whangarei Heads and near Whangarei. Its relative softness and even texture would make it a tolerably easy material to cut, which may account for the whole surface of the figure having been carved in greater detail than is usual with figures fashioned from stone.

I have designated the illustrations (Fig. 1) arbitrarily as representing “A” the front, “B” the right side, and “C” the back. The figure itself is a short cylinder, 95 mm. high and 85 mm. in diameter, surmounted by a head 60 mm. high, making a total height of 155 mm. The deep groove, shown in “B,” is present on both sides, a connecting groove crossing the base. Every aspect of the figure is carved. The base has what may have been intended to represent one single spiral, seared across by the groove above mentioned; but the width of the groove does not permit one to follow out the artist's design. In any case he may have had no more idea than that of filling up the space, for the carving was done after the groove was cut;

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FIG. 1.
Photos by C. E. Dixon. Recently-discovered carved stone figure., Auckland Museum., A—Front, B—Right side, C—Back
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FIG 2.
Carved stone bowl in Auckland Museum.
- 151

at least the cutting of the groove did not efface any carving on the centre of the base, for the cutting of the spiral is appreciably shallower as the groove is approached, and this applies to the carving near the side grooves as well.

The carving of both faces agrees roughly as to eyes, nose, mouth, and tongue, the slightly wider-opened mouth and longer tongue of the “front” being apparently only accidental variations. The band immediately surrounding the mouth, however, consists of a row of ten roughly square projections on the “front,” and a band of simple rectilinear carving on the “back.” On the body the 3-fingered hands are placed one above the other on the “front,” while the finger-tips meet on the “back,” and the differences in space thus made available on the chest probably account for the straight lines filling this space on the front, and the pair of spirals similarly placed on the “back.”

The spirals on this carving are unusual in that they are single instead of double, or interlocking, spirals. Slight differences between the “front” and “back” are also to be noted in the carvings of the arms, which on the “front” have a decoration similar to that of the face-band of the “back.” The arms of the “back” have a broad, waved, double-band design, terminating at the wrist in three concentric circles.

The different position of the hands on “front” and “back” can be compared in the Auckland Museum collection with a double wooden figure, of apparently no great age, which was found set up in a Maori settlement in Hawke's Bay; this figure had a hole bored with a modern auger in the side of the neck, the hole containing the hair and umbilical cord of a child. The single spiral is unusual; it is represented in this Museum on one portion of a small stone figure which elsewhere has double spirals.

A certain similarity in the general design is evident when one compares this figure with a carved stone sinker in the Auckland Museum (the one figured in Bulletin of the Dominion Museum, No. 2, p. 52, upper figure). In the sinker the spirals are double, but there is a similar restriction or extension of the body-carving according to the different position of the hands on “back” and “front.” as well as a filling up below the spirals by chevrons which represent a continuation of the spiral of each side. In the sinker the lower pair of spirals on each side are the bases - 152 of legs, which are clearly represented, but there are no legs proceeding from the lower spirals in the figure.

The combination of spirals and rectilinear carving on one object is also represented in the Auckland Museum by a small stone bowl (Fig. 2) from Te Awamutu, recently presented by Mr. N. M. Lethbridge. The spirals (double) of this carving are interesting also from the fact that one whorl is plain and the other notched. Each end of this bowl has a triangular face with crude features.

As to the purpose of the Northcote figure, the deep grooves at the sides and base suggest a place for a cord for a ceremonial sinker, but the lack of a suitable place for a tie around the neck or over the head, while not negativing this suggestion, renders its correctness doubtful. Its general shape, with flat base, is unusual for a sinker.

Possibly it was a taumata, also known by what Mr. Best (The Maori, II., p. 386), designates as the “objectionable name of kumara gods.” Quoting Mr. Best: “They are alluded to by the natives as taumata, that is as resting places or abiding places for the gods. They served as symbols, visible representations of the gods of agriculture, such as Rongo. Such a stone image would be kept at the tapu place of the village at ordinary times, and, when the crops were planted, it would be taken to the field and placed at the upoko or head thereof.…” Rongo is at least sometimes represented by a double form of stone image, and this probably stands for the dual Rongo-ma-Tane already explained [l.c., p. 370.]

Should the present image have been a taumata, it is possible that the grooves on the sides and base may have fitted into the top of a standard suitably recessed to receive it.

Another suggested purpose is that of a fishing-charm, intended to be set up in a canoe. Its general resemblance to the ceremonial sinker referred to above supports this view, and the two-headed form of the representation of Tangaroa in the trio of Aldred god-sticks (Bull. Dom. Mus., No. 9, p. 108d, Fig. 52) in the Auckland Museum may have a bearing on the matter.

I have made comparisons between this figure and other objects in the Auckland Museum, and hope that readers of the Journal may be able to make other comparisons and suggestions.