The new archaeology – Teviotdale and Lockerbie
In the 1920s archaeology assumed a greater role in the study of New Zealand’s past. David Teviotdale had worked for years as an amateur archaeologist, but from 1929 was employed as Otago Museum’s field archaeologist. Anthropologist H. D. Skinner made comparative studies of the artefacts Teviotdale unearthed, leading him to reject the idea of one homogenous Māori culture. Instead Skinner proposed a series of culture areas around the country, each with distinct lifestyles, food-gathering methods and approaches to artistic expression.
Teviotdale and Skinner made their excavations without detailed site recordings. Leslie Lockerbie, formerly Teviotdale’s assistant and Skinner’s student, introduced a more methodical approach to archaeology. This included site mapping, recording the exact location of each artefact, and carefully noting the site’s stratigraphy (geological and archaeological layers). In the 1950s Lockerbie pioneered the use of radiocarbon techniques in New Zealand.
In January 1939, 13-year-old schoolboy Jim Eyles was living on a farm at Wairau Bar, Marlborough. He made his first dig using a garden spade, finding a hollowed out moa egg, human bones and a bone necklace in the middle of a large burial ground. In March 1942 Eyles was digging an air-raid shelter and found moa eggs, artefacts and human bones. This second Wairau Bar find attracted the attention of Roger Duff of the Canterbury Museum.
The Wairau Bar discoveries
In 1939 a Marlborough schoolboy, Jim Eyles, discovered human and moa remains at Wairau Bar. This turned out to be one of New Zealand’s most important archaeological sites, providing details of lives and burial practices during the earliest period of Polynesian settlement. Roger Duff, another student of Skinner, worked extensively with Eyles at Wairau Bar in the 1940s. Duff produced a theory of two distinct stages of Māori culture; an early hunter-gatherer ‘moa-hunting’ phase and the later phase of ‘classic’ Māori culture.
Academic anthropology emerges, 1940s–1970s
By the 1940s a number of psychologists turned their attention to anthropology. I. L.G. Sutherland, at Canterbury University College, edited the book The Maori people today, published in 1940. Ernest and Pearl Beaglehole, based at Victoria, studied the Māori community at Ōtaki. They were ethnopsychologists, combining the disciplines of psychology and anthropology.
A great ‘British’ anthropologist
New Zealander Raymond Firth studied economics at Auckland University College in the early 1920s, before going to the London School of Economics (LSE). There he switched to anthropology. His PhD thesis was published in 1929 as Primitive Economics of the New Zealand Maori. Firth went on to conduct a series of important studies of the Polynesian people of Tikopia. He was made anthropology professor at the LSE and became one of the most important anthropologists in the British academic world.
In 1950 the first university anthropology department was established at Auckland, under Ralph Piddington. Departments were set up at the University of Otago (in 1958) and Victoria University of Wellington (in 1965). In 1971 Massey University appointed Hugh Kawharu as professor of anthropology, attached to the Geography Department. Auckland academics took a leading role in the Polynesian Society, particularly in the production of its journal. Jack Golson, archaeologist at the University of Auckland, encouraged the formation of the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) in 1954. The public service also began employing anthropologists, with the appointment of John Booth as social researcher for the Māori Affairs Department.
The new professional anthropologists and archaeologists were sceptical of the historical accuracy of oral traditions. They also had new tools available, such as radiocarbon dating, allowing investigators to more accurately work out the age of artefacts.
A challenge to orthodoxy
In the 1950s the biggest challenge to orthodox anthropology came from an amateur scholar, Andrew Sharp. His carefully documented 1957 work, Ancient voyagers in the Pacific, argued that Polynesian canoe voyages had largely been accidental, with canoe traditions being devised after arrival in New Zealand. Sharp’s views led to serious debate on the accuracy of canoe traditions and the nature of migrations. In the 1960s and 1970s a range of new techniques were applied to studying canoe migrations, including computer simulations and voyaging by replica canoes. Most anthropologists came to the conclusion that Polynesian voyages had been deliberate and navigated, but Sharp’s critique had stimulated a more scientific approach to migration theories.