Volume 48 1939 > Volume 48, No. 190 > Excavation of Maori implements at Tarewai point, Otago heads, by David Teviotdale, p 108-115
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 108

THIS site occupies a very exposed position on a small spur above the western end of Pilot beach on the southern side of the entrance to Otago harbour. Its area is small, not exceeding an acre, and the greater portion has been swept bare down to the clay by wind. It was a favourite hunting ground of the late Captain Bollons on his periodical visits to the Taiaroa-head lighthouse, and local tradition credits him with many good finds here. The road to the lighthouse passes through and covers most of the residential area, thus constituting the principal difficulty in the task of excavation.

At the signal-station on Taiaroa head, one of the signal men who had known the place for many years, told me that according to local Maori tradition, Tarewai, a famous Kaitahu chief of ancient times, lived here and that in escaping from a sudden Katimamoe raid he scaled a steep cliff at the eastern end of Pilot beach, and reached the shelter of the pa on Taiaroa head. This cliff, which was afterwards known as Tarewai's Leap, was used as a quarry and destroyed when the heads were fortified in the war scare of 1885-90. Not knowing any other name for the site, I have therefore called it Tarewai point.

It has been a village of some eight or ten huts, probably occupied by a small clan or hapu, and there is evidence that the huts were finally destroyed by fire. It is known that in one of the epidemics that decimated the Otago Maoris just before European settlement of the province, huts were burnt to dispose of the dead within them. 1 About the middle of the site I found a funeral pyre where four bodies had been cremated together, evidence of a family swept off by disease. Wherever I found stakes they had been burnt off at the - 109 ground level, and the ground usually had a thin coating of ashes and charcoal. This evidence supports the view that the village was last inhabited in the third decade of the nineteenth century, for no earlier epidemics are recorded.

When I first visited the site in 1927 the only untouched portion visible was a narrow strip a few paces in width extending along the lower side of the road for about fifty yards. The remaining visible part had been stripped bare except for a few hardy rushes or struggling tussocks. The bank of the road had arrested some of the drifting sand, thus covering and preserving the Maori deposit. The rest of the deposit lay under the road.

On many of my earlier visits I was accompanied by the late Alexander Gilmore, and we dug together energetically for several months. Then the road-authorities forbade our digging as the drifting sand was blocking the road and filling the water-tables. For several years following, we did nothing but surface-hunting, until the rushes and tussocks covered most of the wind-swept area and stopped the sand-drift. In 1932 I recommenced digging, and by replacing the turf have managed to excavate the greater part of the site without damaging the road.

The site proved to have been occupied during the transition period, when European tools were beginning to supplant Maori ones. Beads, small old-fashioned tobacco-pipes, and fragments of glass and iron were found along with the usual stone and bone implements. Near the eastern end were signs of some European habitation such as beef-and mutton-bones, broken crockery, old boots, etc., mixed with the upper covering.

In proportion to the other material, greenstone was more abundant than on any other site I have worked in Otago. It was of inferior quality, and of characteristic appearance, so that it could be identified with some confidence as coming from the same source as much of the greenstone found by Mr. Charles Haines at the head of lake Wakatipu. The same class of greenstone has been found at Lower Portobello and at Murdering beach, indicating these people as the exploiters of the Wakatipu deposit. Bone articles were comparatively scarce. Chert and quartzite were - 110 common but in smaller flakes than on other sites. Obsidian was scarce, and always in small flakes. Rubbers and polishers, usually of sandstone, although some were of schist, were plentiful. Hammer-stones and sinkers were scarce. Kokowai was very plentiful, and many round stones, used to pulverise the hematite, and several large flat stones used to grind it on, were found. At one spot a heap of fragments of hematite was lying with three round stones beside a large flat stone; all these stones were reddened with grinding.

At the western end of the site was a fireplace, and beside it I excavated a bone flute, a small greenstone chisel, and several rough tools. Further east was a grave, three feet six inches long, containing a human skeleton. The grave was covered with fairly large stones and was very shallow. The skeleton lay on its left side in the usual trussed up or crouching position, with the head to the south and facing west. Most of the lighter bones had wasted away, but the limbs, pelvis, skull and vertebrae were sound. The right femur had been broken and not properly set, but the bone had united in a large spongy lump, making the right femur much shorter than the left. On the skull, above the right temple, was the scar sear of an old wound. The teeth were those of an old person, and the injuries showed he had passed through troublous times.

A few yards from this burial was a well-made fireplace, twenty inches long by sixteen inches wide. About six feet from this hearth was a short row of small stakes about eighteen inches apart with another row of similar stakes at right angles, with a stouter post marking the corner. They were rotted to powder, but enough remained to show they had been burnt off at the ground-level, and the whole area was covered with a thin layer of charcoal and ashes. The stakes were evidently the corners of a hut, but I did not find enough to give an idea of its size. Between the stakes and the fireplace was a grindstone, eight inches long by six inches wide, and three inches thick. Beneath this grindstone was a partly polished piece of greenstone, three inches long and two inches wide. Just beyond this was a large flat stone on which kokowai had been ground. Beside this stone, close to the corner post of the hut, was a bone mere. This had - 111 been burnt, and broke into fragments when lifted; I secured all but the end of the handle. From the rest of this hut I secured two pieces of greenstone, a broken tobacco-pipe and some nails. At one spot, presumably on the wall-line, was a post-hole, six inches in diameter and fourteen inches deep, containing some fragments of rotten wood.

From this point eastward was a fairly large area which contained little except a bone flute and several fragments of greenstone. Then came a large fireplace with the charred stump of a good-sized post about three feet from it. At about the same distance from the fireplace, but on the opposite side, was the butt of another post. This, also, was burnt off at the ground-level, but enough remained to show it had been a dressed post about seven inches wide and three inches thick. Close beside this dressed post was a fish-shaped greenstone pendant (fig. 1) and about three feet away was a greenstone drill-point (fig. 2) pointed at either end. From an area around this fireplace, I obtained two common stone adzes, one greenstone adze, part of a bird-shaped greenstone pendant (fig. 3), one unfinished greenstone adze-head, a sinker, an unfinished bone flute, a three-pronged comb, three pieces of greenstone, two pieces of soapstone, a burnt and broken bone mere (the handle was missing but a short distance away was an unburnt bone handle, which probably belongs to this mere), a number of rough tools in schist and sandstone, and three inner ends of porpoise ribs, which had been sharpened to form fish-hook points (fig. 4). This last is an artifact I have not observed elsewhere. Among this Maori material, was a plane-iron, a piece of iron that may have been a knife-blade, and an iron fish-hook. These were all in the last stages of rust.

At this point the spur dips sharply toward Pilot beach, and here for a few yards below the road was the only undisturbed midden of the site, though there were indications of other middens which had been blown away by the wind. In and around this midden Gilmore and I did most of our digging until we were stopped. The midden was about a foot in depth, and most of it was covered by about two feet of drifted sand. It was composed of the usual shells, fish-bones and scales, bones of dog, seal, and birds, and ashes. We obtained a large amount of material from this

- 112
FIG. 1., FIG. 2., FIG. 3., FIG. 4., FIG. 5.
Scale two-thirds. Otago Museum, D. 34.739. Scale two-thirds. Otago Museum, D. 34.740. Scale two-thirds. Otago Museum, D. 33.2016. Scale two-thirds. Otago Museum, D. 34.722-724. Scale two-thirds. Otago Museum, D. 29.587.
- 113

area. The best item was a fish-shaped greenstone pendant found by Gilmore (fig. 5), another of his finds was a green-stone adze-head about seven inches long, the largest we found on this site. I found two bone flutes, four common stone adze-heads, two small greenstone adze-heads, and a slab of greenstone fourteen inches long, five inches wide and two inches thick and roughly polished on both sides; probably the Maori owner intended making a mere from it. Two small grindstones lay near it.

When the drifting sand, which incidentally came from an area Gilmore and I had not disturbed, blocked the road, the the storm-water swept over the road and washed this midden away. When the road was repaired a pipe-culvert was put across it near this place, and the water has washed away a great deal of the hillside also. The only Maori deposit left here is the portion covered by the embankment of the road. The area worked at this point was about fifty feet long and averaged twelve feet wide. It was covered with upwards of two feet of clay and stones from the road, and then a layer of sand above the Maori level. The Maori deposit was usually from four to six inches in depth and never more than a foot except where the pyre was, and there it was nearly two feet. My method of working this part of the site was to remove the top sod over an area from six to eight feet long and three feet wide. I then shovelled the over-burden on to the road and carefully worked the Maori deposit also, throwing it out until the clay bottom was bare, then kneeling on the clay I gouged out the Maori earth beneath the road as far as I could reach with the pick. I then shovelled the spoil back and packed it tightly and replaced the sods. By this method I worked the greater part of the ground and did no harm to the road.

A short distance from the last fireplace mentioned above, I found a bed of charcoal, about five feet long by four feet wide and about twelve inches in maximum depth, thinning out toward the edges. This contained a large quantity of calcined human bones but enough were unconsumed to show that four persons of different ages had been cremated. I have already dealt fully with this pyre in a former paper. 2

- 114

A short distance further on was a small oven, and not far away I got half of a sperm-whale's tooth. This has three deep longitudinal grooves cut to divide it into four strips from which the Maori probably intended to make cloak-pins. There were also two pieces of soapstone, two greenstone adze-heads, a common stone adze-head and a bird-spear point.

Another interesting find was a small hollow in the clay, circular in shape and about twelve inches in diameter and five inches deep. It contained a layer of wood-ashes about two inches deep, a central layer of kokowai one inch in thickness, and another two inch layer of wood-ashes, evidently an oven with kokowai in preparation. A large flat stone lay beside this umu and near it were two pieces of greenstone, a small greenstone adze-head and a barbed point of a composite hook made of a seal's tooth. About three feet from this umu three small grindstones stood together, set on end against a large flat stone on which kokowai had been ground. Four feet further on was a large fireplace with nothing beside it, but scattered around were two greenstone adze-heads, three fragments of soapstone, a small piece of greenstone, a tattoo chisel, a bone fish-hook point and a greenstone adze-head and a common stone adze-head standing touching each other edge downward in the clay.

At the eastern end of the site the road has slipped or been washed away and repaired several times, and the ground is all tumbled about so I have not worked there. Above this part of the road is a small area which is covered with ovens but which I have not worked.

The fragments of soapstone found around the funeral pyre are parts of a soapstone bowl similar to that found by Mantell in the moa-hunters' camp at Awamoa.

The points of most interest in this excavation are, first, the confirmation of the local tradition regarding the burning of bodies in the epidemics of the 'thirties; second, the dating of the soapstone bowl as a late feature in Maori culture; and third, the evidence that the exploitation of the Wakatipu greenstone was late and was carried out by hapu which, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, were living at Otago heads.

- 115

The principal items found in the excavations described in this paper are as follows:—

  • 48 fragments of greenstone.
  • 26 greenstone adze-heads.
  • 3 greenstone pendants.
  • 4 greenstone drill-points.
  • 8 greenstone chisels.
  • 8 fragments of a soapstone bowl.
  • 20 adzes of common stone.
  • 5 bone flutes.
  • 1 bone toggle.
  • 2 bone combs.
  • 11 barbed points of composite hooks.
  • 3 points of barracoutta hooks.
  • 3 points of barracouta hooks made of porpoise ribs.
  • 2 bone mere.
  • 1 bone cloak-pin.
  • 1 sperm-whale's tooth showing method of manufacturing cloak-pins.
  • 1 needle.
  • 1 eye-piece of paua-shell.
  • 4 tattoo needles.
  • 2 bird-spear points.
  • 3 sinkers.

In addition there are many pointed bones, sandstone and schist cutters, polishers, grindstones, and other rough tools. All the finds are the property of the Otago Museum, and may be studied there.


FIG. 1. Pendant in form of a fish, greenstone. Otago Museum, D.34.739.

FIG. 2. Drill-point, greenstone. Otago Museum, D.34.740.

FIG. 3. Pendant in form of a bird, greenstone. Otago Museum, D.33.2016. (The restoration is based on a complete greenstone pendant in the form of a bird from Willowbridge. Otago Museum. D.28.6006.)

FIG. 4. Three points of composite fish-hooks, made from ribs of porpoise. Otago Museum. D.34.722, 723, 724.

FIG. 5. Pendant in form of a fish, greenstone. Otago Museum, D.29.587.

(Previously figured by H. D. Skinner. J.P.S., vol. 42, page 314.)

1   E. W. Durward, J.P.S., vol. 42, p. 69.
2   J.P.S., vol. 44, p. 32.