Volume 66 1957 > Volume 66, No. 2 > A rare lunate pendant from New Zealand, by G. Leslie Adkin, p 192-198
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THE PURPOSE of these notes is to discuss and place on record a second specimen of one of the rarest types of ornament or amulet occurring in the archaic material culture of the New Zealand ethnological region. This is the lunate-shaped object perforated for suspension, and bearing serial linear notching of precise execution on its convex margin (Fig. 1).

The New Zealand area is notable for the occurrence of a number of articles of long-past native material culture so rare as to defy explanation until at least a second specimen comes to hand to enable typology to shed some light on their probable significance. In this connection there can be cited the Okehu (Popoia) tribrach, the Ruapuke Island lunate pendant, certain objects from the Waverley site recorded by Downes, the Kaitaia carving, and other unique (or extremely rare) styles of carving from North Auckland; the list could be considerably extended but these are probably sufficient to establish the point raised. By reason of their rarity, and especially, in some cases, their unique individuality, no interpretation of function or significance is justifiable until more material of like character is available for determination of purpose, function, or symbolism by comparatives, by pattern of geographical distribution, and any other means and methods that may provide sound clues for rational recognition.

The original lunate pendant, until recently locally unique, is figured by Hamilton. 1 The brief data concerning it reads: “Pendant of clear transparent greenstone, from the Island of Ruapuke, in Foveaux Straits. It is notched at the edge. In the collection of Dr. T. M. Hocken, Dunedin.” 2

This pendant has also been figured and commented on by Robley, 3 by Skinner 4 and by Ruff. 5

In the section of his article under “Amulets representing human legs,” Dr. Skinner gives a sketch of the object, accompanied by this description: “Fig. 21 [a line drawing based on Hamilton's published photographic representation] is made from beautiful translucent greenstone, probably tangiwai, and is from Ruapuke Island, Foveaux Strait. Hamilton's view that this decorative feature [the marginal serrations] is ancient is supported by the whole of the evidence at present available.” This and two other “pieces illustrate departure from realism, a process satisfactorily described in the present case by the term degeneration.” 6

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If “degeneration” is invoked in support of the suggested classification of this piece as representing human legs, determination must have been based entirely on analogy between it and other vaguely forked forms accepted as representations of (pairs of) human legs, since in itself it has no relevant specific features other than two rounded lunate cusps. The suggested classification therefore seems entirely subjective and hardly possible to sustain.

In a subsequent issue of the Journal 7 the validity of this contention was admitted. The initial identification received notice of correction and the “human legs” idea was abandoned. It was pointed out that the drawing, Fig. 21, was orientated incorrectly in the earlier issue and “to be shown properly must be rotated through ninety degrees,” [a procedure involving a revolution in interpretation of even greater magnitude]; this would reveal it “to represent a fish with over-developed dorsal and ventral fins, and lacking tail and the greater part of the body.” 8 This new identification is stated to be based on the sole fact that “the indentation in the outline [of the illustrative representation] is not the result of on accidental break [i.e., a break-out of one side of the primary hole of suspension located at the extreme apex of the convex side of the piece] but the intentional rendering of a mouth.” The existing (secondary) hole of suspension then becomes the eye, and with the alleged “mouth,” a fish is produced albeit a remarkably deficient one. But, as will be shown in the description below of the second specimen of lunate pendant, the hole for suspension in this type was by convention placed in an asymmetrical position so as to cause it to hang at a certain desired and apparently expressive angle. The “indentation” which Dr. Skinner re-identified as a “mouth” must therefore be regarded merely as the original hole of suspension broken away and replaced by the present one, as may be commonly seen in some stone pendants and originally recognized in this one.

In his work cited above Robley, after describing and figuring the various principal more familiar sorts of New Zealand greenstone pendants, refers to other definite but “curious shapes.” Among these he shows one of crescentic form” that suggests a scraper or cutting tool.” 9 This piece is depicted with sharply angular pointed cusps which, together with the concave edge joining them, have well-defined cutting-edge bevels. It also has a projecting perforated tab for the suspension hole symmetrically placed at the middle of the convex side. It therefore seems to be an amulet of scraper or cutter motif, as inferred by Robley, and thus does not come within the type of lunate pendant under notice, which presumably embodies a greater degree of esoteric symbolism than does the ordinary representational amulet. [A parallel comparative might be given by thus differentiating between, say, the guardian lizard-embellished chest of a North Auckland burial cave 10 and a hei-matau or a rei-paraoa.]

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Robley continues: “Fig. 27 shows a somewhat similar form from the Island of Ruapuke in Foveaux Straits, made from a fine fragment of translucent stone.” 11 In the wash-and-line illustration, Fig. 27 (taken from the photograph published by Hamilton), the serrated convex margin is emphasized and the second hole for suspension shown, but the broken-out original perforation is only perfunctorily rendered as if deemed negligible. No opinion of the significance or of the representation is offered.

Elsie Ruff classifies the Ruapuke Island object under ear-pendants together with the well-known kurukuru (straight drop with rounded cross-section), the kurupapa (flattened form), and the tatau [or kapeu] (having lower end curved or hooked), but regarded the lunate form as “of unusual type,” as indeed it is. In the accompanying illustration, Fig. 10 (a reproduction in half-tone after Hamilton), the object has been rotated through a further ninety degrees and shown upside down, defying the force of gravity by having the hole for suspension at the bottom. This author is also non-committal regarding the natural form (or abstract idea) represented, by merely observing that “its resemblance to a fish may be deliberate or accidental” 12 with no further discussion as to period differentation, culture affinity, or amuletic quality.

The establishment of the lunate-shaped pendant as a definite type and not an odd fortuitous form, was brought about by the appearance of a second practically identical specimen which came to the writer's notice in July, 1950. It had been found some years earlier on the Murihiku shore of Foveaux Strait, between Riverton and the mouth of the Waiau, but the exact spot and the date of its discovery were not recorded or committed to memory.

The material of which this second specimen, which for convenience of reference may be called the Murihiku specimen, is made, seems similar to that of the Ruapuke one. It is of tangiwai (bowenite), and by transmitted light is translucent rather than transparent, the clearer portions being a pale nile green and a light yellow brown, separated and interspersed with areas and sub-parallel streaks of nearly opaque darker hue representing formational flaws in the stone. By reflected light the surface is a quite dark green, the flaws appearing as lines and bands varying from nearly straight to irregular and wavy, of whitish-green to bluish-green. The markings on either side do not correspond, indicating the layered nature of the stone.

Dimensions: Maximum length, at outer edges of cusps, 104 mm. (4 1/10 in.); max. width, at middle of crescent, 39 mm. (c. 1½ in.); max. thickness, at central part, 9 mm. (c. 1/3 in.), from which it tapers to a rounded but defined edge at the entire periphery. Weight, 1¾ oz.

All surfaces are smooth and have a soft polish. The only flaw in this respect is a tiny area of initial roughness on one side of a cusp; a few grinding facets at the cusp apexes are also visible. The outline curves are true except for one slight bulge on one side of the concave margin; the general appearance is aesthetically pleasing.

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FIG. 1.
Lunate Pendant Amulet from the Murihiku Shore of Foveaux Strait.

The hole for suspension is located perilously close to the convex margin, being only 2 mm. from it; in addition, a minute narrow sawn groove on one side at the critical place reduces the thickness of the slender rim by one-third. If the initial hole of suspension in the Ruapuke specimen was similarly placed unduly close to the margin of the piece, as there is every indication that it was, there is little wonder that it broke out during use, necessitating the boring of the second hole.

Part of the symbolic significance of the lunate type of amuletic pendant may well have been in the particular attitude it took up as worn in suspension. In the Murihiku specimen the centre of the hole of suspension is 8 mm. to one side of the position of maximum transverse width, and as the opposite cuspate lobe is the longer (see Fig. 1), the centre of suspension is decidedly asymmetrical. This gives the pendant an oblique aspect when suspended, the angle being 60 degrees from vertical.

Apart from its shape the most striking and significant feature of the lunate type of pendant is the presence of serial linear notching on its convex margin. The present writer has pointed out 13 that by its - 196 inseparable association with accepted typological evidence, serial linear notching on New Zealand stone artifacts must be regarded as a criterion of the earliest New Zealand native culture—the Waitaha (culturally equateable with the South Island “Moa-hunter,” but in the North Island antedating them).

The serial notching of the Ruapuke and Murihiku pendants corresponds in relative position but differs in minor details. On the Ruapuke specimen the notching appears to consist of V-shaped grooves transverse to the edge which has a scalloped outline, with segments of circles separating the grooves. The notching of the Murihiku pendant is bolder and deeper, and the intervening salients are little rounded bosses. On the longer segment of the convex edge the notching is continuous to within less than half an inch of the end of the cusp. Opposite the hole of suspension another half inch of margin is not notched. The lesser segment of the convex edge carries a continuation of the notching but only for a little under half its length, the remainder being, like the concave margin, an unbroken gentle curve. The longer segment carries 15 notches, the lesser, 5. Additional indication of the oblique “set” of the pendant as worn is furnished by noticeable wear on the series of 15 notches, by friction with the garment, whereas the series of 5 on the protected side of the suspension cord are as prominent and well-defined as when initially cut.

In form the notches on this specimen are individually semi-circular and were apparently cut with a thin stone file, circular in cross-section and no more than 1-16 in. in diameter, or, with a thin flat cutter having a working edge of the thickness indicated. The greater part of the cutting of each notch was done from each side alternately, but the preliminary marking out was probably carried right across to ensure true register, which is perfect, and the finishing touches were done in the same manner since laterally the basal curvature of each notch shows no angular break.

Of the symbolic and ritual significance of the lunate-form type of pendant no clue has been handed down. Of its archaic conception and amuletic character, however, there can be no doubt. Its restriction in range, so far as is at present known, is to Foveaux Strait in the extreme south of these islands. To this region, as we have both testimony 14 and archaeological evidence, 15 the earliest peoples and their cultures, first Waitaha and later Ngatimamoe, were finally driven, and the evidence points to Waitaha as the parent culture of this particular token of abstract symbolism. The geographical factor in its distribution indicates a relatively late Waitaha date, though one still too early for effective traditional recollection. It would be a matter of great ethnological interest if a still more archaic prototype of this amulet were ultimately uncovered. A Ngatimamoe culture origin is unlikely, all the evidence proving beyond reasonable doubt a Waitaha culture source.

A word may be added in respect to alternative culture designations in current use for the first inhabitants of New Zealand. It can only be - 197 a matter of time for the term “Waitaha” 16 to be generally accepted to replace the originally descriptive but unfortunately ambiguous name “Moa-hunter.” The Ngatimamoe people (whose advent in New Zealand was later than that of Waitaha, but long antedating the “Fleet” tribes) had a distinctive (though at present imperfectly known) material culture, and they also were the hunters and became the virtual exterminators of the moa; the name “Moa-hunter” for a single distinctive culture, therefore, is loose, ambiguous, and unscientific.

For the earliest inhabitants and culture of the North Island the name Moa-hunter for most areas is barely applicable, this culture being indicated by other and much more definite criteria. 17 An arbitrarily demanded criterion for the South Island Moa-hunters, viz., ovens with remains of feasts of moa-flesh, is apparently very rare in North Island sites, only the Waingongoro location being definitely citable. 18 At the present time, however, the other more decisive and varied criteria of the Waitaha (or “Moa-hunter”) type of material culture are available and have been used by the present writer to correlate the more precise term “Waitaha” with the South Island “Moa-hunter” and vice versa.

The New Zealand conditions and circumstances make it preferable to follow the practice used for the American continent to designate ancient cultures, viz., the use of the names of ethnological groups—Aztec, Inca, Maya, etc.—for the cultures concerned rather than the practice long adopted in Europe of using the names of particular representative sites for culture designations. The name “Moa-hunter” could perhaps be used subordinately when appropriate, but as a scientific culture designation the term “Waitaha,” a name long known in an early tribal sense, would be much more suitable and etymologically correct for general reference to this particular material culture.

  • ADKIN, G. L., 1950. “Supplementary Data Relating to the Ancient Waitaha . . .” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 59:1-34.
  • — —1952. “A Second Ancient Patu from Horowhenua.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 61:313-15.
  • BEATTIE, H., 1920. “The Southern Maori and Greenstone.” Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 52:47-8, 51.
  • — —1954. Our Southernmost Maoris. Dunedin, Beattie.
  • BEST, E., 1923. “Miramar Island and its History: How Motu-kairangi was Discovered and Settled by Polynesians, and how, in Times Long Past, it became Miramar Peninsula.” Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 54:779-791.
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  • CHEESEMAN, T. F., 1907. “Notes on Certain Maori Carved Burial-chests in the Auckland Museum.” Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 39:451-6.
  • ENYS, J. D., 1873. Proceedings of the Wellington Philosophical Society. Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 5:432.
  • HAMILTON, A., 1899. Maori Art. Dunedin, New Zealand Institute.
  • HECTOR, J., 1873. Proceedings of the Wellington Philosophical Institute. Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 5:431.
  • ROBLEY, H. G., 1915. Pounamu. Notes on New Zealand Greenstone. London, Guilford.
  • RUFF, Elsie, 1950. Jade of the Maori. London, Gemmological Association of Great Britain.
  • SKINNER, H. D., 1932-33. “Maori Amulets in Stone, Bone and Shell.” Journal of the Polynesian Society, 41:302-8; 42:191-203; 310-320.
  • THORNE, Jun. G., 1876. “Notes on the Discovery of Moa and Moa-hunters' Remains at Pataua River, near Whangarei.” Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, 8:83-94.
1   Hamilton 1899:Pl. XLVIII, fig. 4.
2   loc. cit., 365.
3   Robley 1915:48, and Fig. 27.
4   Skinner 1932:302-8.
5   Ruff 1950:Fig. 10.
6   Skinner 1932:306-7.
7   Skinner 1933:311.
8   loc. cit., 311.
9   Robley 1915:48.
10   see Cheeseman 1907:451-6; Skinner 1933:199 (fig. 61).
11   loc. cit., 48.
12   Ruff 1950:opp. 64 (caption to fig. 10).
13   Adkin 1950:16.
14   Beattie 1920:47-8, 51; 1954:85.
15   Adkin 1952:313-15.
16   Adkin 1950:8, and footnote.
17   See Adkin, loc. cit., 1950:15-16.
18   Three other possible occurrences have been recorded: Paekakariki (Enys 1873:432); Pataua (Thorne, Jun. 1876:85 et seq.); and Wellington (Hector 1873:431; Best 1923:780).