Volume 61 1952 > Volume 61, No. 3 + 4 > Notes and queries, p 326-328
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- 326

[565] When was the Moa Exterminated?

Because each passing year makes it more difficult to reconstruct the past and learn something of the date of the extermination of the moa by the early human inhabitants of this country, I wish to put on record what I saw in my youth. It may help to throw some light on the subject.

In 1888, my father, R. Hancock, balloted for and drew a bush section (Wanganui Small Farms) of 113 acres, about half-way between the Rangitikei River and the western side of the Ruahine Range. It was located eleven miles east of Ohingaiti, at the crossroads north of Rangiwahia. The area was called the Pemberton Block, for five brothers of that name who came from Canterbury and were instrumental in having the block opened up. At the time of the ballot I was ten years old.

The place was formerly really primeval and too remote for the Maoris to have settlements there, but hunting parties had left numerous traces. Stone ovens were plentiful enough, as were blaze-marks—bruises 1½ inches across—plainly made by stone axes [adzes] on the rimu trees. The huia bird was plentiful.

It would be the year 1893 or '94 that my father, his nephew, and I (who acted as scrub-cutter and billy-boiler), having felled an area on the slope of a high hill facing north, secured a good burn. The locality was heavily timbered, with very large rimu, totara, rata, and maire, most of them 6 feet or more in diameter, growing in profusion, and as the altitude there is over 2,000 feet, I guess they had been growing there a thousand years. The undergrowth was a dense thicket of rangiora, etc., and the ground itself was covered with a thick mat of root fibre called pukau by us. [pukahu: any matted fibrous vegetal formation (Williams's Dict.).]

After the burn, while sowing grass seed on the area described, I noticed about seven heaps of bones where the thickest pukau had been; originally, therefore, they had been under the matted fibre of the forest floor. The bones were mostly about 2 inches thick and up to a foot in length. At first I naturally though they were cattle bones, until I saw a scattered handful of stones, up to marble size, near each heap and recognized them to be crop stones of the moa. To clinch matters I found a leg bone with the three short offshoots of the joint [metatarsus]. Most of the bones were really leg bones broken into one-foot lengths and quite a number had been split lengthways, apparently by the people who had hunted and killed the big birds. The heaps of bones would be within an area of 9 or 10 square chains.

I lived in the locality for 35 years but did not hear of any similar discoveries.

—F. E. Hancock.

p. 327—Notes and Queries, para. [566], line 3, should read:—

“number 11-5810) from thirty inches deep in rectangle T4-5 U4-5, location”

- 327

[566] A Carbon-14 Date from Fiji.

In my paper on “Archaeological Excavations in Fiji,” 1 I mention a charcoal sample (University of California Museum of Anthropology, number 11–5810) from three feet deep in rectangle T4–5 U4–5, location A, site 17, Navatu, Ra Province, Viti Levu. Through the good offices of Professor James B. Griffin a carbon-14 age determination of this sample has been kindly made by Professor H. R. Crane of the University of Michigan, Memorial-Phoenix Project Radiocarbon Laboratory. Professor Crane determined the age to be 950 years ago plus or minus 300 years.

The date is of considerable significance, since it implies a much greater age for the deeper parts of the deposit at location A, from which cultural material was obtained down to a depth of ten feet.

—E. W. Gifford.

[567] Personal.

Dr. H. D. Skinner's retirement from the directorship of the Otago Museum dates fom February 28th. For the rest of 1953 he will act as Relieving Director. In recognition of his services to the Museum the University Council has made him Director Emeritus.

[568] Personal.

The retirement of David Teviotdale from the curatorship of Southland Museum took place at the end of January, 1953. David Teviotdale was born at Hyde, Central Otago, in 1870. As a youngster he worked first at farming and then at prospecting for gold. From 1912 to 1924 he had a stationer's shop at Palmerston. Early in life he was interested in sporadically collecting Maori material, but at Palmerston he was able to systematize his collecting by regular digging on the Shag River mouth site, a locality associated with famous names in New Zealand science—von Haast, Hutton, Booth, Hamilton, Chapman. In 1920 he contacted Otago Museum, and was advised on keeping a journal, on cataloguing finds, and in particular on recording associations with moa bones, either “useless” (e.g. ribs, vertebrae) or “useful” (e.g., femur, tibia). From 1924 to 1929 he was in Dunedin in charge of a run for the Evening Star. In 1929 he joined the staff of Otago Museum to which he presented his collection numbering more than four thousand pieces. Most of the summers of the next eight years were spent in excavating coastal sites about Dunedin, the rest of the year being spent in cleaning, cataloguing, and describing material for publication. The most important results of these Otago excavations, reported in some nine or ten papers, were summarized in his paper “Material Culture of the Moa-hunters of Murihiku,” published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 14. There were later papers on work in South Otago. He had carried out a series of excavations north and south of Kaikoura, and on D'Urville - 328 Island and the west shores of Golden Bay. In 1933 he was a member of H. S. Hovell's party digging on the Oruarangi site. His paper on this site constitutes his only excursion into North Island archaeology. In 1937 he retired from the staff of Otago Museum, but in 1942 as a war service he took charge of Southland Museum. His work in Southland has greatly enriched the Maori collections of the provincial museum. In 1929 he was awarded the Percy Smith Medal.

His colleagues express their admiration of his work and their wishes for a long and happy retirement.

1   University of California Anthropological Records, Volume 13, page 203, 1951.