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A plant and parasite record of a midden on Auckland Isthmus, New Zealand, reveals large scale landscape disturbance, Māori introduced cultigens, and helminthiasis

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2023-04-07 04:11 PM

Horrocks M, Brown A, Brown J, Presswell B. 2023. Asian Perspectives 62, 97-119.


The study of Māori agriculture in New Zealand is hindered by lack of direct evidence in the form of plant remains and on Auckland Isthmus also by lack of excavation sites due to extensive urbanization. Recent demolition and earthworks for the construction of an apartment complex at Newmarket on the isthmus exposed a Māori shell midden. The midden was analysed for plant (pollen, phytoliths, and starch) and parasite microfossils to shed light on Māori activity on the isthmus.

The plant microfossil and 14C results show large scale landscape disturbance by people, and agricultural activity with the discovery of pollen of the Māori introduced cultigens Colocasia esculenta (taro), Cordyline fruticosa (tī pore), and possibly Broussonetia papyrifera (paper mulberry). In addition, phytoliths of B. papyrifera and starch and xylem of cf. C. esculenta and c.f. Ipomoea batatas (kūmara, sweet potato) were identified. The parasitological analysis identified egg packets of Dipylidium caninum, a dog parasite that would have adversely affected dogs and people on the isthmus.

These microfossil types and their affinities are described in detail and discussed with reference to archaeological contexts elsewhere in New Zealand and the wider Pacific Island region, reviewing the locations and types of both macro- and microfossils of these cultigens and parasites previously reported in the Pacific Islands. Given the highly variable production and preservation of different organic tissues, the study also highlights the value of combining the three different types of analyses for the study of ancient human activity, in this case providing evidence of four of the six Māori introduced cultigens and a dog parasite from a single midden.


Agriculture, introduced plants, Polynesian cultigens, helminth eggs.

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