Professor Richard Walters at Maheno School

Professor Richard Walters at Maheno School

Today I was lucky to hear Professor Richard Walters talking about archaeology again. This time Maheno School had invited him in as they were studying early Maori in New Zealand, and the Treaty of Waitangi. These are my notes from his talk.
He took us back 800 years to when the Maori first voyaged here in their waka from Polynesia. They would have first needed to adapt to the climate and the different growing conditions for food. So they ate what was plentiful at that time-the moa. Archaeologists have found many sites from Oamaru south so we know the Moa were abundant here. The Willetts site has over 400 Moa ovens, and there are sites at Kakanui and Shag River.
While the Maori did not have money they were very wealthy. They were rich with resources and that included tools. They needed tools to survive, to make waka and whare, to hunt and gather. Wood, stone and bone were used. It is the latter two that survived that are the clues to the past.
Stone was used and moved around New Zealand from its source. The early Maori were transient so the stone travelled too. Stone was precious.
The main types for tools were
• OBSIDIAN-sharp and dangerous. Tool used to make tools and for cutting. A large piece would be carried in a kete and a sharp chip would be flaked off when needed. (Like a portable pocket knife). Used for cutting meat. Lots of chips are usually found in archaeological sites.
Richard demonstrated how to flake a small piece of obsidian off and then cut easily into a piece of meat- the children loved this!

• BASALT-there are different types in New Zealand. One type is found in Kakanui. Basalt is used for Toki, which are for carving and shaping wood, they are not a weapon. The flat face does the work. They are made by using a hammer stone (jasper or quartz) to shape the piece of basalt, then it was ground (with limestone) and polished. The stone piece was bound on a handle with harakeke.

• POUNAMU-jade or greenstone. Uses to make mere and toki. Sourced from West Coast, with difficulty. Richard showed us four that he had found wrapped in a kete under a house in Westport, that were 800 years old-some of the oldest relics in New Zealand! One was a dark green colour but the other three were the most beautiful light chalky soft green colour-very unusual.

The children asked fabulous questions-with one of the best being “could obsidian chop your head off?” “Yes” said Richard.

Elizabeth King