Archaeologists have conventionally divided New Zealand prehistory into two chronological phases: “Archaic Maori” and “Classic Maori”. These phases are defined by the distinctive assemblages of artefacts (such as adzes, fishing implements and ornaments) that are associated with each phase. But they also largely coincide with the centrality of big game to Maori subsistence. During the earlier phase, moa and seals were central to people’s diet. However, as moa became extinct (by around 1500 AD), and seal populations seriously depleted, Maori had to rely more heavily on other sources of food. (more…)

Episode 5 of the envirohistory NZ podcast series is now out. This episode explores the critical link between environmental history and the decisions we make about how we shape and live within the environment. To illustrate the importance of environmental history in helping to inform  environmental policy and planning decisions, this episode reflects on two recent natural disasters – the February 22nd Canterbury earthquake and the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in north-eastern Japan. (more…)

Once again, I find myself writing about a place that I hold great affection for, after it has been devastated by a natural disaster [see also: Christchurch - a city haunted by its environmental past].  This time the north-east of Japan, where a tsunami (tidal wave) of up to 10 metres high struck the eastern coast, following the magnitude 8.9 earthquake of 11 March. (more…)

Archaeological evidence shows that Maori occupied the south-east coast of the North Island, including Palliser Bay, by the 14th century. Research in the 1970s by Foss and Helen Leach of Otago University showed that people lived in small settlements at stream and river mouths. The people were both gardeners and hunters and gatherers, reliant on what they could take from the forest, rivers, streams, coastal lagoons and the sea – the main sources of food were likely to have been small birds, fish, seals and kūmara (sweet potato). There is evidence of about 300 people in six separate communities on the eastern side of the Palliser Bay. Yet by the 1600s these settlements had gone. (more…)

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