How a beach stroll can be a journey of archaeological discovery

A view of the beach at Raumati South, looking north-west towards Kapiti Island
A view of the beach at Raumati South, looking north-west towards Kapiti Island

Generally, when we go for a stroll on the beach, our gaze tends to fall towards the sea, rather than inland. But sometimes it pays to turn our gaze towards the dune landscape too, as dunes sometimes harbour treasure troves of environmental history – in the form of middens. Continue reading

Did tsunami cause resource wars in prehistoric New Zealand?

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. Continue reading

The abandonment of Palliser Bay – a prehistoric case of environmental degradation?

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. Continue reading