Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 56, September 2012

(Reprinted from the Hauraki Plains Gazette, January, 1959.)

Archaeologists from the Auckland University Archaeology Society, in the summer of 1959, made some rare discoveries on the Coromandel Peninsula, while carrying out excavations of known historic sites.

Kuri, a Polynesian dog

Kuri, a Polynesian dog which came to New Zealand with the Maori migration.

Rare Discoveries on Coromandel Peninsula
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 56, September 2012
Kuri, a Polynesian dog

Among the artefacts recovered were the skeleton of an extinct hawk; the skull of an extinct Polynesian dog or kuri and bones of a species of moa previous unrecorded in the locality.

Led by the lecturer in history, Mr J. Golson, MA., the party of "diggers" excavated a settlement of moa hunters—the first Polynesian inhabitants of New Zealand.

The excavations which are on a remote part of the Coromandel coastline had, on previous field trips, yielded a rich harvest of moa hunter relics. On the recent dig the archaeologists recovered few artefacts, but have made other significant finds.

A large part of a skeleton of the extinct hawks, cicrus eylesi, was found in a midden left by the moa hunters. The discovery was made by Mr Jolly of Auckland, who noticed a bone protruding from the sand.

Only One Other Specimen

Mr R. J. Scarlett of the Canterbury Museum, who examined the find, said it was important as only one other specimen had been found. That was at Pyramid Valley in the South Island. A single bone of the extinct hawk had been unearthed previously in the North Island.

The hawk was half as big again as the harrier hawk and had its lower mandible curved like that of a falcon. Although the skull and some of the vertebrae were missing, Mr Scarlett said it would not be difficult to construct it.

Another relic of a moa hunter feast, the almost complete skull of a kuri, was found by Messrs J. and R. Green. The back of the cranium of the animal had been removed, apparently to get at the brain for food.

Mr Scarlett said the skull was a valuable find as complete skulls of the kuri were rare. This one belonged to a young adult dog.

Mr Scarlett, who was an expert on moa bones, attached great importance to the discovery of the remains of two species of moa which had not previously been found so far north. One was an example of the smaller North Island euryaptryx and the other either euryaptryx or the larger dinornis.

Quality Not So High

The moa hunter campsite where these finds were made was discovered fairly recently and is notable for the material unearthed there. However the quality of the artefacts has not been so as those found in the South Island. Mr Golson described them as "poor man's" versions of the rich Wairau Bar deposits.

The southern relicts were found in association with burials and the question is being asked whether a burial ground of the moa hunters, similar to the one at Wairau, exists on the Coromandel coast. The existence is considered to be a distinct possibility.

The Coromandel relics are no cruder than some of those found at Wairua and do not indicate that the North Island moa hunter culture was in any sense inferior.

Mr Golson believes the first site excavated at Coromandel to have been contemporaneous with the discovered recently at Motutapu Island. It probably belonged to the period AD 1250 or 1300.

Judging by the variety of activities carried on there, he had no doubt that it was a permanent settlement. However, it was by no means a major site like a richer and more extensive one close by.

Series of Pits and Canals

Mr Golson thinks the latter may be a considerably older settlement than its neighbour. He bases his conclusions on the quantity, size and variety of moa bone and the quantity of moa egg shell unearthed there. Little significance is attached to the small number of burials found so far. Much more important are a series of pits and canals filled with light-coloured sand.

Soil samples from these have been collected and will be analysed to determine whether they are windblown or whether, in fact, they belong to the moa hunter period. The pits have been filled in a manner which suggests that they are of a considerable age. The origin and purpose of the pits open up a whole series of questions, one of the most notable being whether the earliest Maoris possessed the kumara. This has been in doubt for many years.

A number of bell-shaped pits in the vicinity had the archaeologists guessing, but, then when one was excavated at the insistence of a local farmer it was found to be an old wasp nest.