Strategies for Obtaining Obsidian in Pre-European Contact Era New Zealand

Mark D. McCoy, Jonathan Carpenter

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Archaeological evidence of people's choices regarding how they supply themselves with obsidian through direct access and different types of exchanges gives us insight in to mobility, social networks, and property rights in the distant past. Here we use collections of obsidian artefacts that date to a period of endemic warfare among Maori during New Zealand's Late Period (1500-1769 A.D.) to determine what strategies people engaged in to obtain obsidian, namely (1) collecting raw material directly from a natural source, (2) informal trade and exchange, and (3) formal trade and exchange. These deposits represent a good cross-section of Late Period archaeology, including primary working of raw material at a natural source (Helena Bay), undefended sites where people discarded rubbish and worked obsidian (Bream Head), and a heavily fortified site (Mt. Wellington). We find that most of the obsidian described here was likely obtained directly from natural sources, especially those located on off-shore islands within about 60-70 km of sites. A smaller amount comes from blocks of material transported from an off-shore island a greater distance away, called Mayor Island, in a formal trade and exchange network. This study demonstrates the value of conducting tandem lithic technology and geochemical sourcing studies to understand how people create and maintain social networks during periods of warfare.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-13
    JournalPLOS ONE (Public Library of Science)
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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