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The making of Māori society: an archaeological analysis of social networks

Obsidian and a dog bone recovered during an excavation of Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island). This work is only possible due to a partnership with Ngati Hei

Posted: Thu, 3 Nov 2016

No culture is socially static. Over several centuries, the Polynesian colonists who settled New Zealand began to create a new type of society. Relatively autonomous village-based groups transformed into larger territorial hapū lineages, which later formed even larger iwi associations.

Traditionally, information passed down through the generations by word of mouth has provided the best evidence of these complex, dynamic changes in social organisation. However, a novel Marsden-funded project will use archaeological evidence to examine how social networks beyond the village changed as Māori society developed.

Professor Thegn Ladefoged from Auckland’s Anthropology department will work with colleagues from Auckland and the USA to reconstruct ancient systems of inter-iwi trade and contact by looking at the physical evidence of everyday life – tracing when and where ancient tools made from obsidian moved throughout New Zealand.

By combining traditional archaeological techniques, sophisticated Geographical Information System analyses and social network analysis modelling with local iwi input, Professor Ladefoged’s team will gain new insights into how Māori society emerged and flourished in the past.

Proposed experiments will use obsidian hydration dating as a method for determining the age of New Zealand artefacts. This collaborative research will also connect or reconnect Māori with their taonga held in museums and university archaeology collections.

The integration of science, archaeology and local knowledge on a rarely seen scale, makes this one of the most unique and exciting Marsden-funded projects in recent years. 

PR2016 MF Ladefoged Fieldwork

Fieldwork on Ahuahu (Great Mercury Island) done in partnership with Ngati Hei

Total Funding: $705,000 (excl. GST) over 3 years

Researchers: Professor Thegn Ladefoged, Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142