Pakohe - Argillite
Click image to enlarge
Earliest Māori communities recognised its superior qualities of hardness, strength, and ability to hold a sharpened edge, ideal for making tools (especially adzes) and weapons. Another property – conchoidal fracture (like that of obsidian – volcanic glass) provided a source of razor-sharp flakes for filleting fish, preparing roots and vegetables, woodcarving, flax work and net-making.
Māori obtained pakohe by quarrying it from lenses in the mountains or by finding boulders which had survived millennia of pounding in mountain streams. Quarries with extensive areas of discarded argillite pieces which have been won from outcrops, but are unworked or only partly worked, can still be seen.
Henry Skinner described the Rush Pool quarry in the eastern hills above Nelson City in the early twentieth century. He believed there were two main methods of quarrying, and quoted Elsdon Best to detail the first:
A very good (Maori) authority tells me that a fierce fire was kept burning on the face of the rock until it became red with heat. Water was then thrown on it. This caused the surface to crack and split up into small, or comparatively small, pieces; but the rock underlying the shattered surface became not shattered, but merely cracked in fairly large pieces. The shattered surface was loosened and thrown away, then the underlying part was split open (koara) and suitable pieces selected (uncracked pieces) to toki, etc. Surface rock was always deemed inferior, and was not used. Interior stone was much better for tools. The best stone of all was obtained from below the surface of the water.1
Skinner added that it was clear that “… fire is of no avail unless water is applied”,2 and observed that the pool in the quarry area appeared to be man-made.
The other method involved the use of hammerstones to break up small-size boulders, although they would be of little use with rock faces not already opened up by fire and water. He described the hammerstones at the quarry as:
… almost without exception, water-worn granite pebbles brought from Mackay’s Bluff or from the Boulder Bank. They range in weight from a few ounces to half a hundredweight … The transport of the larger ones for many miles over streams, through bush, and across a high saddle must have presented great difficulties …3
Māori often took argillite boulders overland or in waka, to be worked closer to home: many locations throughout Te Tau Ihu have stone-working sites where partly-worked adzes and numerous argillite flakes can be found.
Sources used in this story
- Best, E. In Skinner, H D (1913) Ancient Maori Stone Quarry. Transactions of the NZ Institute. Vol 46, 1913. http://rsnz.natlib.govt.nz/volume/rsnz_46/rsnz_46_00_005820.html ; Mitchell, H..& J. (2004) Te tau ihu o te waka, vol 1. , p.54
- Skinner ; Mitchell, p.54
- Skinner, Mitchell, p.54
Want to find out more about the Pakohe - Argillite ? View Further Sources here.
Do you have a story about this subject? Find out how to add one here.
Further sources - Pakohe - Argillite
- Davis, Te A., O’Regan, T., and Whiting, C.(1990) He Korero Purakau Mo Nga Tamahanatanga a Nga Tupuna: Place Names of the Ancestors. [Wellington] : New Zealand Geographic Board, 1990.
- Johnstone, M. (2011) Pakohe – A Rock that sustained early Māori Society in New Zealand.. In Ortiz, J. et al (eds.) History of Research in Mineral Resources. Cuadernos del Museo Geominero, 13. Madrid: Instituto Geológico y Minero de España
- Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough : Vol I: Te tangata me te whenua - the people and the land. Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation, p. 23, 53-55.
(the story of an expedition of a group of Maori who travelled from Deleware Bay to the Argilite quarry, told through the eyes of a child, Ihaka)
- Keyes, I W. (1975,May). The D'Urville Island-Nelson metasomatised rocks and their significance in New Zealand prehistory. Historical Review, 23,1, p.1-17
- Newport, J N W.(1976, August) Nelson's first industry. Journal of the New Zealand Federation of Historical Societies, 1.6 p.36-37
- Prickett, Nigel. (1989, Sep) Adzes of Nelson argillite from the far north of New Zealand: the Auckland Museum collection. Archaeology in New Zealand, 32,3, p.135-146.
- Walls, J Y. (1974). Argillite quarries of the Nelson mineral belt. Newsletter (New Zealand Archaeological Association), 17, 1, pp.37-43
- Walls, J. Y. & Hurst, M G. (1979, June). Rocky Knob and Cat Knob argillite quarries in the Nelson. mineral belt. Newsletter (New Zealand Archaeological Association.) 22, 2,pp. 60-62, 63-64
- Walls, J Y.(1979, Mar). Salvage at the glen - a late archaic site in Tasman Bay. Newsletter (New Zealand Archaeological Association, 22, 1, pp.6-19
- The Nelson Provincial Museum [http://www.nelsonmuseum.co.nz/]
- Golden Bay Museum. [http://goldenbaymuseum.org.nz/
- For argillite boulder: Corner of Hardy and Trafalgar Streets, outside Nelson Provincial Museum
- DOC (1989) Oakley and Bennett Quarries. Retrieved from Heritage New Zealand:
- Argillite : Geology rocks and Minerals. Retrieved 23 December 2008 from University of Auckland :
- Walrond, C. (accessed 31 March 2020) 'Nelson region - Geology and landforms', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand:
- Oparapara (Samson Bay) Argillite Quarries. Retrieved from New Zealand Historic Places Trust:
Red and Green Argillites (1915) InArt. VI—Block Mountains and a “Fossil” Denudation Plain in Northern Nelson. Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand 1868-1961,48:
Skinner, H D: (1913) Ancient Maori Stone Quarry.Transactions of the NZ Institute. Vol 46, 1913: