Early Māori stonework

Despite the wide array and sheer quantity of stone distributed over New Zealand's islands, stone is not a material that is commonly associated with the construction of Māori pā sites and whare - especially when compared with the highly developed traditions developed around its use for implements and weapons.

This is no doubt due to the tyranny of time as much as anything else; for the place of stone gets hidden by the build-up of soil and vegetation in many old settlements. For example, extensive networks of stone structures were revealed by archaeologists at a well-known site at Palliser Bay, many of which were related to cultivation.

One place where the large-scale use of stone is still apparent is Te Koru pā; an exceptional Taranaki remnant at which one can still read the earthforms of a pre-European pā, as well as see rare examples of stonework that line scarps and define the terraces that run down to the river.

The upper photograph on the left shows a particularly large face of stone revetting that clothes a bank dividing two terraces. On the right-hand side, the image shows an interesting stone-lined insertion in the midst of an old whare site, which served the function of a fireplace pit.

The stone revetment shown above also demonstrates how stone holds the banks in place throughout the site. They do not appear to be retaining in the sense that we most often use that term, for they are used to face cuttings rather than retain the load of soil behind them. Hence, they retain the integrity of already stable slopes, rather than creating new platforms through filling and retaining.

Another feature of Te Koru pā is the large number of rua kumara (kumara pits) that speckle the site (as shown above). These offer an additional incentive for sticking close to the paths throughout the pā (aside from respecting the integrity of this significant site); as a wrong step into one of these deep pits doesn't look like much fun.

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