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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Types of Site

Several categories of site are recognised by archaeologists. They may occur either separately or together; close proximity, however, does not necessarily indicate an association in the past, for each site may have been used at a different time.

Pa “fortified villages” are usually built in places already well provided with natural defences: on hilltops, cliff edges and headlands, oxbow river bends, etc., with defensive earthworks (ditches and/or banks) across any accessible entrance. Wooden palisades usually surmounted the earthworks, but are now represented only by post holes and occasional pieces of charred or rotted wood. The area inside the defences is usually terraced, and often contains pits, working floors, ovens, and middens (though these can also occur separately).

Pits vary greatly in shape and size, but the majority are rectangular and between 5 and 20 ft long. Some were used for storage, while others appear to have been house sites, but the exact function of the majority is still a subject of controversy.

Working floors are areas where the Maori manufactured tools and ornaments of stone, bone, or wood. Worked flakes of these materials, together with finished and broken artefacts, may occur in great abundance.

Middens–“refuse heaps” of shells and/or bones are common indicators of Maori occupation, especially in coastal sandhills.

Ovens, or hangi, are usually a few feet in diameter, containing shell or bone, together with charcoal and burnt oven stones.

Terraced habitation sites occur widely throughout New Zealand. Some are heavily fortified, while in others the terrace scarps provide the only protection. Agricultural terraces are also widespread. They vary considerably in size, but are usually more extensive and less regular than habitation terraces, and are often marked by the presence of a man-made gravel layer in the soil.

Caves, or rock shelters, often contain abundant evidence of habitation (middens, ovens, artefacts), of burials, and of artistic activity (rock paintings and carvings). Many rock shelters containing Maori art occur in South Canterbury. The drawings, executed in black, red, or yellow (or a combination of these), are stylised representations of men, animals, and everyday objects (spears, canoes, etc.). No reliable traditions concerning the drawings have been recorded; our understanding of them will depend on their artistic analysis, and on archaeological excavations of the shelters.

Quarries, the source of stone artefacts, occur only where the rock has desirable working qualities. Roughly shaped artefacts, flakes, and stone “anvils” and “hammers” may still be present.

Stone structures–walls, rows, and heaps–were usually formed when land was cleared for agriculture. Stones were also occasionally used in pa defences.

Swamps seem to have been used as storage places for precious wood carvings, either to cure and season them or to hide them in time of war.