Whales and Whale Bone Technology in New Zealand Prehistory
Cunliffe, Emily A.
This thesis explores the use of whales as a material resource, and the role that these animals played in the Māori lifeway during New Zealand prehistory. The research examines the methods used in procuring and processing whale bone, and discusses the sorts of items that prehistoric Māori manufactured from whale bone. Two approaches to the analysis of the role of whales as a resource are taken in this thesis: the first is a distributional study which compares the relationship between whale stranding hot-spots and the geographical distribution of archaeological sites at which whale bone has been reported. It was hypothesised that a strong correlation between these two datasets would indicate that people were locating their settlements near to whale stranding hot-spots to take advantage of the high rate of whale strandings. Secondly, a taphonomical analysis of an industrially worked whale bone assemblage from Kahukura, Murihiku, was undertaken to identify the methods used in processing the bone and to determine the tools being used and the artefacts that were being manufactured.Industrially worked whale bone occurring in New Zealand archaeological sites was processed using tools which were not intended for the specific use of processing whales. Adzes were the most commonly applied tools, although the use of anvil stones to provide a solid platform for bone working is unique to this resource. Whale bone in archaeological sites does not correlate strongly with the geographic distribution of whale stranding hot-spots, showing that although Māori were taking advantage of whale strandings whenever they were encountered, they were not a resource which was relied on or factored into their subsistence strategy. The overall finding of this thesis is that Māori utilisation of whale strandings was opportunistic. Communities were not locating their settlements to be close to whale stranding hot-spots, nor is there evidence for a specialist whale bone working tool-kit. However, Māori clearly had a good understanding of whale strandings and the physical properties of whale bone, and were efficiently processing and utilising this resource whenever it was encountered.
Advisor: Walter, Richard
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Anthropology and Archaeology
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; Archaeology; Maori; Whale; Whale stranding; Whale bone
Research Type: Thesis