Gourds, truffles and coprolites | New Zealand Geographic

Archaeologists have a good suggestion what kind of animals have been hunted or collected by early Maori. Mollusc shells and animal bones abound at settlement websites throughout New Zealand. However the identical can’t be mentioned for the plant part of the Maori weight loss plan, as a result of most plant tissues disintegrate quickly.

We all know that Maori cultivated meals crops introduced from the tropical Pacific and that additionally they gathered many wild crops for meals and medicinal functions. And we all know that, as with all tribal peoples, crops have been an essential a part of the Maori economic system. However thus far nearly no stays of meals crops, akin to seeds or tubers, have been discovered at Maori settlement websites.

A bunch of us just lately tried to unravel this downside by on the lookout for microscopic plant stays within the type of pollen from flowering crops and spores from non-flowering crops. In contrast to most different plant tissues, pollen grains and spores are extremely sturdy and could also be preserved for hundreds of years, lengthy in spite of everything traces of macroscopic plant elements have vanished.

The plain place to search for pollen and spores of crops cultivated for meals is in soils that may have been used for gardens. One such website is at Pouerua, within the inland Bay of Islands. The positioning is an previous volcano pa the place a whole bunch of Maori stone mounds just a few metres aside cowl many hectares. Archaeologists assume that these might have been utilized in Maori agriculture.

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We examined pollen and spores in soil samples from one of many mounds and located pollen grains of bottle gourd, one of many crops that Maori launched to New Zealand. Gourd fruit have been eaten on the stage of development earlier than the rind had laborious­ened, and have been used as calabashes after the rind had hardened.

As gourd crops are insect pollinated, many of the uncollected pollen finally ends up on the bottom inside just a few metres of the plant, somewhat than being dispersed for lengthy distances within the ambiance, which is the case with wind-pollinated crops. The presence of gourd pollen within the stone mound strongly means that this specific domesticated plant was cultivated at this website and that the stone mound was used for agriculture.

After discovering the pre­served pollen, we puzzled in what different archaeological contexts we might search for this kind of proof. We have been quickly introduced with one other alternative: an archaeological excavation that was a part of a joint analysis venture between the College of Auckland and the belief boards of Ngatiwai and Ngati Rehua. The excavation was of a sand dune at a Maori settlement website at Harataonga Bay, on Nice Barrier Island within the Hauraki Gulf.

Throughout the excavation, we unearthed some coprolites‑preserved items of excrement—which from their measurement might have been deposited solely by people or kuri, the domesticated Maori canine. We couldn’t decide the precise origin, however that didn’t matter as a result of we knew that the diets of Maori and their canines would have overlapped significantly, with canines being fed scraps from meals and scavenging round consuming areas and garbage heaps. We thought that any pollen and spores that had handed via the intestine and been preserved in these coprolites may give clues about crops that the individuals at Harataonga Bay have been consuming.

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We handled the coprolites in the identical means because the soil samples from the stone mounds at Pouerua, and located that they did comprise pre­served pollen and spores. And, as within the mound samples, one of many pollen sorts current within the coprolites was bottle gourd.

The coprolites additionally contained plentiful spores tentatively identi­fied as being from a truffle fungus. Truffles, the fruiting our bodies of ascomycete fungi, are produced underground in affiliation with plant roots, somewhat than above floor like mushrooms. The truffle-like spores we discovered resemble these of a number of truffles identified in New Zealand and Australia, however up to now we have now been unable to match them with any identified species. We do know that truffles have a protracted historical past of use as a meals in lots of cultures, and pioneer missionary Reverend Richard Taylor wrote that Maori “esteem [them] as an article of meals.”

Our work continues to be in its early levels. We hope with time to construct a extra detailed image of food-plant use in prehistoric New Zealand—just a little identified side of our archaeo­logical file.

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