Recently appointed Archaeology Curator, Dr Louise Furey, gives the facts on New Zealand prehistory

By Brigid Gallagher 21/09/2011

It makes a huge difference when listening to a radio broadcast if the person being interviewed sounds as though they know what they are talking about, and can communicate their thoughts across in a calm, clear and knowledgeable way.

This Sunday’s interview of Dr Louise Furey, the recently appointed Curator of Archaeology at the Auckland Museum is a great example of this.  Played on the Graeme Hill show, Radio Live, the interview was varied, fascinating and a great advertisement of New Zealand national identity.

Throughout the interview Louise displayed both humour, gravitas and at times moderation. Her evident high regard for New Zealand Archaeology and Maori prehistory was inspiring. For those who have read Digging the Dirt previously, Louise was the archaeologist on the Marae DIY episode which saw the restoration of Ongarahu Pa in Western Bay of Plenty.  She portrayed these same traits in that TV appearance, when she was labelled a taonga by Julie Sparham, Pirirakau.

The interview started with the sense of a smile when Louise answered that she was very pleased to find herself in the position of archaeology curator having previously coveted it. 

And then began a journey that saw her answer wide and diverse questions from

various parts of the Pacific, artefacts, migration and settlement evidence, early contact evidence between Maori and Europeans, landscape innovation and development , rock carvings and their preservation, fringe archaeology and the celts, marine archaeology, requirements of developers on building sites with possible archaeological deposits under the Historic Places Act, survival of archaeology in our largest cities, the Christchurch earthquake zone in the South Island, and finally wound back to the Northern end of New Zealand at Ruapekapeka Pa, where she reminded us that the first recorded trench warfare in the world is preserved and in amazing condition.

Always on the lookout for evidence of New Zealand’s exciting archaeology, it was fantastic to listen to someone who is still clearly, after years of working in New Zealand archaeology, passionate about it. 

Based on her ability to communicate the subject, and the evident knowledge and enthusiasm she possesses, this broadcast shows Louise is clearly an asset to the latest renaissance of the Auckland Museum, and I would suggest to our nation, as a keeper of history, culture and society.

These are some of my favourite quick facts:

1. We were the last great land mass to be discovered, by anybody.

2.  East Polynesians arrive in New Zealand about 13th — 14th century AD.

3.  Pearl shell lures indicate an East Polynesian origin, and in Tairua, the archaeological context it was found dated to late 13th to 14th century AD. The extinct Kakapo was also found in this context.

4.  Blue water, 2 way voyaging was occurring in the Pacific at the time of New Zealand’s first settlement, based on artefactual finds from Island groups.

5.  Settlement across the Pacific halted for about 1000 years in Samoa, which Louise likened to time for a long cup of tea, during which time Lapita pottery decoration and technology changed.

6.  Pottery is not found in New Zealand prehistory, but neither was it found in the immediate ancestral home of Maori.  It was found in their ancestor’s home!

7.  The gourd and kumara are good indicators that E. Polynesians reached South America. 

8.  Mitochondrial DNA analysis of chicken bones excavated in Chile shows Polynesian genetic indicators.

9.  The introduction of metal to Maori material culture by Europeans had one of the greatest effects on artefact style, type and development.

10.  Red fabric was commonly given to New Zealand Maori by Cook as it was highly desired due to the mana associated with the colour.

11.  Pa sites, which are often as accessible as looking out of the car window on a country road, are unique to New Zealand.

12.  Many Pa have now been dated and cluster about 1500 AD.  The reason for this change in settlement remains unclear.

13.  North Otago and Canterbury limestone overhangs and caves are ideal for rock carving survival. Much of New Zealand’s landscape is not suitable for survival, therefore carvings are likely to have eroded away, rather than not been there at all.

14.  Utilitarian objects remains relatively unchanged through New Zealand Prehistory, most change is reflected in decorative objects.

15.  Louise categorically stated that there is no evidence of New Zealand occupation prior to Maori.  The earliest evidence found archaeologically is that of East Polynesians.  East Polynesians had the technology to navigate great oceans. Celts at that time did not.

16.  Parts of Wellington, Dunedin and Christchurch should have good archaeological survival under current buildings. Archaeology should be done prior to Christchurch redevelopment, especially around the cathedral where the first settlement is situated.

17.  Ruapekapeka Pa in Northland has the first recorded trench warfare evidence in the world.

Wow, I feel inspired!