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dc.contributor.advisorLaing, Raechel M.
dc.contributor.advisorWalter, Richard
dc.contributor.authorSmith, Catherine Ann
dc.identifier.citationSmith, C. A. (2014). Pre-European Māori textiles from South Island New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from
dc.descriptionHard copy available through interlibrary loan
dc.description.abstractThe study of archaeological textiles is commonly reported as a tool for illumination of technology, social process (gender, production, exchange, interaction) and cultural difference. While most interpretation of prehistoric human society has been based on study of more robust material culture increasingly evidence suggests the importance of textiles in subsistence economies. Plants, and the textiles made from them, were likely as important as food for past human survival. However systematic, rigorous technical and analytical examination had not previously been applied to pre-European Māori textiles in New Zealand. Few Māori textiles were known to be prehistoric, and previous examination of them had limited research value. In order to improve knowledge about pre-European Māori textiles, and contextualise the archaeological discovery of a large assemblage of early textiles (early 15th century AD, Kaitorete Spit, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand) information was sought about existence of other relevant artefacts. A survey of New Zealand museums resulted in discovery of a larger corpus of prehistoric textiles than anticipated, scattered nationwide-wide. Three textile assemblages with good provenance from South Island, New Zealand, were selected for study i) Fiordland textiles; n.d. likely c. 18th-early 19th century AD ii) Puketoi Station textiles (Central Otago) early 18th century AD and iii) Kaitorete Spit (Banks Peninsula) early 15th century AD. All 206 individual artefacts were systematically documented (photography, illustration, diagrams) requiring development of terminology based on structural characteristics, and a pro-forma to record essential textile attributes. The textiles showed innovation and difference. There was diversity of structure (wovens; plain, twills with different orientations and patterns, weft twining, knotting, braiding, folded yarns) and selvages (braids, twined, re-insertion into kaupapa in assorted ways). Variation in production and structure implied difference in artefact form, even when function of incomplete artefacts was difficult to discern. Textiles that were identifiable included cordage, containers and bags, mats or architectural elements, sandals and processed textile materials. When artefact function was unclear, selvages, textile structure and surface and decorative treatments were used to speculate about possible end-use, based on post-contact examples and ethnographic studies of Māori textile production. Based on these criteria, the Kaitorete assemblage may provide evidence of the earliest extant Māori clothing (weft-twined, tagged fragments could be derived from a cloak(s), short upper body garment such as a mai, pokeka or para, or a lower body garment such as a maro). Additionally divergence from previously-noted customary textile forms (based on post-contact artefacts) could be discerned. Noteworthy also was that the earliest textiles studied (Kaitorete Spit; c.1400 AD), were also among the most complex (structure, sett, surface treatment) and were more complex than textiles previously thought earlier in the sequence (Lake Hauroko). Developmental models articulated by Buck (1925; 1938) and Simmons (1969) therefore did not adequately account for Māori textiles production, also calling into question the veracity of evolutionary progress as a model for culture change in New Zealand. In light of the short chronology of prehistoric New Zealand, and the environmental heterogeneity in the South Island, a concomitant diversity in cultural response to specific conditions (animal, plant, temperature, levels of population, interrelationships) seems more logical, and indeed discernable in the textile assemblages studied. The pre-European Māori textiles studied amply illustrated weaving expertise, and significant antecedent craft specialisation in producing textiles from plants endemic to New Zealand. Indeed the study of three assemblages of early Māori ‘perishables’ provided palpable evidence of the centrality of textiles in pre-European New Zealand, not only for clothing and portage, but also for procurement and storage of food. In addition to the importance of textiles for survival in pre-European Māori subsistence strategies, it is also postulated that textile production, trade and exchange were likely a defining aspect of social reproduction, essential for successful adaptation to New Zealand.
dc.publisherUniversity of Otago
dc.rightsAll items in OUR Archive are provided for private study and research purposes and are protected by copyright with all rights reserved unless otherwise indicated.
dc.subjectNew Zealand
dc.subjectPre-European Māori textiles
dc.subjectmaterial culture
dc.titlePre-European Māori textiles from South Island New Zealand
dc.language.rfc3066en Sciences of Philosophy of Otago
otago.openaccessAbstract Only
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