Horticulture in prehistoric New Zealand : an investigation of the function of the stone walls of Palliser Bay
Leach, Helen M
Low stone rows and alignments were reported as early as 1904 on the coastal platform of eastern Palliser Bay. In all subsequent references it was assumed that the features were horticultural and, on the grounds of their appearance, of considerable age. Methodical investigation of these claims within the context of a three year archaeological programme (1969-1972) including analysis of prehistoric settlements, economy, and physical anthropology, was regarded as a worthwhile project, since orthodox opinion at the time favoured a later introduction of Polynesian horticulture some centuries after initial settlement of New Zealand about the 9th century AD. Extensive field surveys showed that at least 93ha of the coastal platform between Whatarangi and Cape Palliser had been subject to stone clearance according to several simple principles, such as equal access to the best soils, maintenance of a rectilinear system, and the clear separation of individual plots with boundary markers and paths. In addition, excavations conducted within the major complexes revealed artificial deepening of the prehistoric topsoil, frequent incorporation of wood charcoal, rare addition of beach gravel, and inclusion of domestic refuse where the walls were adjacent to coastal villages. Both radio-carbon dates and artefacts found in association with the stone structures indicate early establishment of horticulture on this coast by the 12th century AD with an apparent peak of activity and complexity of garden system before the beginning of the 15th century, followed by decline and virtual abandonment. Climatic conditions prevailing in Palliser Bay today preclude cultivation of all Polynesian cultigens except the kumara (Ipomea batatas) and gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). It is now accepted that mean annual temperature at the time of settlement was 1° - 2°C higher. Even so, growing season length and rainfall would probably not have been adequate for crops such as taro or yam. Within New Zealand, the kumara gardens of Palliser Bay find close parallels on both sides of Cook Strait, and on the eastern coast of the Wairarapa . Similar principles of garden layout applied in the larger Auckland wall complexes, and in 18th century gardens north of Hawkes Bay. From a survey of tropical Polynesian garden structures it appears that an extensive repertoire of horticultural techniques was introduced by the first settlers to temperate New Zealand and despite the loss of variety in cultigens it persisted until the 18th century as a viable means of subsistence.
Advisor: Higham, Charles
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Anthropology
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis