Ngā Tohuwhenua Mai Te Rangi: A New Zealand Archeology in Aerial Photographs
18 — Postscript: Aerial Photography and the Historic Landscape
Postscript: Aerial Photography and the Historic Landscape
Two questions need to be addressed in conclusion to this book. The first is the future direction of aerial photographic research and its value in contributing to an understanding of the past. To an archaeologist, the primary record is not written at all on paper—for the purpose of this book, it is on the land, and photographs are a primary record. In the view of prominent English archaeologist, Peter Fowler, aerial photography, systematic ground survey, and rescue archaeology in the last decade or so:
. . . have overwhelmingly demonstrated ... a range and spread of archaeological material... simply unknown to, and unconceptualised by, earlier generations of students. One is writing not merely of many new sites but of whole landscapes and indeed of superimposed landscapes.. . . 1
Such a revolution in the availability of evidence poses challenges for analysis and writing of history.
The second concerns the manner in which changes come to be layered on the landscape, and how later activity may destroy the earlier. Unscrupulous destruction has been continually occurring in the past, as the aerial photograph record amply testifies. Can there be a duty on the present generation, through legislation, government programmes and landowner initiatives, to preserve the archaeological evidence of past human activity?
Future of the aerial photographic record
We must continue to conduct archaeological surveys, and aerial photographs, taken for the purpose of recording historic sites, will play an important role. Unfortunately, the level of routine aerial photographic survey has been very low in this country since about 1987, mainly because of 'user-pays' and a competitive attitude between agencies as to the commercial potential of their film materials. 2 No doubt economic benefits are gained from awareness of the true cost of those services, but in this process of reform the public good has been lost sight of—particularly the need for a comprehensive record of the nature and speed of change in the New Zealand landscape. An individual forestry company will have records of its forests; it may destroy the records once they are no longer current. What will happen when, in 25 years time, someone wishes to examine the effect of wide-scale afforestation on archaeological sites? Or, of more admitted economic importance, if a review is needed of the flood-potential of a catchment after the forest is felled? Who is to speak for it, and to be heard, if not archaeologists, working to develop community support for protection and the values of the historical landscape? There seems to be little consideration of the uses of aerial photographs for research such as this.
New Zealand's mapping programme has always been a major sponsor of aerial photographic survey. The metric topographic map series coverage is near-complete, and there is no other potential client willing to pay the considerable cost of sustained aerial photograph coverage. Fortunately for the historical record, the existing stock of aerial photographs subject to Crown copyright, which dates back to the 1930s, is well cared for. 3
Internationally, the importance and sheer extent of aerial photography in recent years may be illustrated by activities in the United Kingdom in the course of their dry summer of 1989. In 610 hours of flying time, 5,000 page 268 to 7,000 groups of otherwise buried features (many previously unknown) were recorded on some 25,000 individual photographs. 4 The modest scale of this book is reflected in the total work done for it: approximately 40 hours of flying recording 120 sites or groups of sites in about 1,500 single images. The volume of recording in the United Kingdom has raised several problems in following up the potential information about the past that it contains.
First, aerial photography has discovered so much raw data that we could now consider limiting our capacity to record. Any new recording should be balanced with a renewed effort in analysis and interpretation of the existing record. This point is probably less applicable to New Zealand where, at least in archaeology, we do not have a strong tradition of aerial photography, and much could still be gained by routine flying to fill out the record. Nevertheless, we could do a lot more to analyse the existing aerial photographic record.
Second, aerial photography is not simply a technique to be used as an aid to conventional archaeology, for example, in the identification of new sites for excavation. Rather, aerial photography demands a new approach to archaeological mapping and interpretation that must treat the data with its own distinctive techniques, if maximum advantage in terms of the writing of a full history is to be gained. The analytical techniques that may in future be applied to aerial photography include: systematic mapping of archaeological features, taking corrected measurements off the photographs; detailed studies of settlement pattern using GIS (geographical information systems); more sophisticated analysis of the manner in which sites lie one on top of the other, indicating their relative ages; and prediction of the existence of sites as yet unknown, applying known site-distribution patterns to new territory or landscapes that are buried under alluvium or volcanic ash.
Third, the United Kingdom may be going through a phase in which agricultural practice is exposing sites to view for a brief cycle of seasons, perhaps for the first time, and then shortly afterwards destroying the record in such a way that it will never be possible to recover the basic information again in the future. New Zealand does not have the same density of historic sites as the United Kingdom, yet there are many aspects of the destruction caused by rural development that are similar. In our forestry development in the 1970s, the initial burn-off revealed stunningly fresh images of sites that soon disappeared under a cover of shrubs. We too may be in a period that has unique opportunities to capture images of the past.
In the wider perspectives of archaeology, aerial photography is therefore one of a range of techniques applied to frustratingly evanescent and fragmented, but nonetheless highly valued, samples of the past. However, it is not enough simply to regard aerial photography as a method and to forget its uses. Because of the political nature of much historical writing, we have to remain aware of how it is used. Aerial photography, so often associated with remote and bloodless views of military destruction, is open to the charge that it offers inhumane lessons about the past. Māori fortifications exhibit such fine pattern in aerial view that many of my regional chapters have ended with reminders of the New Zealand wars, but I have tried to balance those with the texture of everyday life, settlement pattern and tradition. Taking the wider view, Peter Fowler also concluded with a warning note:
. . . sooner rather than later, archaeological air photography ... by ascending from a brilliant technique to a discipline which asks and answers questions by its own terms of reference, will stand or fall by its ability to contribute to a fuller understanding of how and why we and our surroundings have come to pass. That wonderful ken from our flying machines has to be, like documents and monuments, transmuted into history. 5
Protection of the historic landscape
The stream bed at Nukutaurua
The ditch and bank fences run across the slope, foreground, and again at right angles from bottom centre to the stream bed. The stream-eroded pits lie in the centre of the land area. At top right is an urupā in a fenced enclosure, and just outside that, to the right, is a rectangular depression, site of a house or perhaps an early church. A distinct ploughing pattern is at bottom left. The view is to the north-east.
Two days before the flight, on the coastal strip at the foot of the high terrace, I had been able to see and measure the ditch and bank fences. 6 They, too, were being heavily worn down by stock, particularly cattle. The early aerial photographs showed that the ditch and bank fence had at one point intersected with the kūmara pits by the Wainui Stream and I was interested to look at the nature of that intersection. Had the pits been cut into by the fence? If so, the pits must have preceded the fence and were therefore of an earlier age. When I got to the pits by the stream, I found that the steep stream banks had long been bulldozed for a ford, but the pits had been missed. Natural forces were at work, however. The pits had been cut by the stream meander acting from the seaward side, so that they were half-sectioned and I could see their relationship with the fence in the soil layers. Later, the stream here had been dammed and diverted so page 270 that it no longer cut into the pits. Towards the ditch and bank, an earlier group of pits had been filled in. The ditch of the fence had been cut into the filling of these earlier pits. To complicate the picture it appeared that a house floor had been constructed over the same pit fill but before the ditch and bank. However, I could determine that the ditch and bank fence was later than the pits since it had cut into them.
Here, then, a sequence of historical activities was established. A pre-European gardening and pit-storage site had been built by the stream banks to gain the advantage of drainage in an otherwise boggy, toe-of-slope location. Perhaps as early as 1840 the pits and house floor had been abandoned and a ditch and bank fence constructed. All the time the stream was at work, working back and forth in its course, so that without the bulldozer cutting the ford and diverting the stream, nothing would have survived and only an aerial photograph almost five decades old could have attested to the presence of pits.
What will the landscape be like in future? There can be no doubt that the ancient cultural features of our landscape are rapidly disappearing. Only in conservatively managed land such as Nukutaurua is it now possible to see sites as they may have been when abandoned, passing out of use, as little as 150 years ago. Physical destruction has increased greatly in the modern era with the much greater capacity for using machinery and vast amounts of energy from oil. Until about 100 years ago, physical work on the land was done by hand or by draft animals (horses, oxen). This limited the size of the changes that could be wrought on the landscape. A human being might be able to shift a maximum of 3 m 3 of soil in a working day. The ability to destroy what had gone before was less. Today a bulldozer or hydraulic digger, in a minute, can do—or worse, undo—the work once done by a human being in a day.
Nature also plays its part. A site by the sea or a river may be eroded by the action of waves or the current. The pits at Nukutaurua were eroded by the action of the stream; the pā, Marama Tāwhana, on the Uawa River, Tolaga Bay (illustrated in chapter 1), has been almost completely carried away in the 300 or so years since it was built. Today it survives only as a scrap of the outer ditch and bank. Everywhere, sheep and cattle trample over the surfaces of sites, especially around fence lines, so the surface features become rounded and eventually disappear.
For several reasons this book has closely discussed Māori fortifications of the New Zealand Wars—they too have been poorly preserved. Few examples of Māori fortifications survive in the Waikato in a form recognisable from the surface. The preservation of rifle trench outworks has fared very poorly. It is as if the new military settlers of the 1870s had sought to purge the land surface of the massive fortifications that had been built there—unwelcome memories perhaps. In many photographs dating back to the 1940s scanned for this book, covering Gate Pā, Meremere, Rangiriri, Pāterangi and Ōrākau, there was little or no trace of these remarkable fortifications. Even where the Māori dead were buried, the ruins have been chipped away by agriculture or roading, as at Rangiriri where, in recent decades, the human remains had to be exhumed for reburial elsewhere.
European fortifications, strictly defined, have fared better. One reason for this is strategic: European fortifications continued to be used for 'pacification' after the fighting while the fortifications of Māori, the defeated, were destroyed to prevent further use or occupied for European use. At Rangiriri, the surviving parts of the fortifications may appear to be of European origin but these are in fact simply European modifications of the earlier Māori fortifications. Furthermore, in remote areas the land enclosing fortifications was surveyed as reserves for police purposes; fortifications were built or maintained by the Armed Constabulary. When the police function became unnecessary, many were created historic reserves. Examples are Tapuaeharuru Redoubt at Taupō, Fort Galatea near Murupara and the Runanga Stockade on the Napier-Taupō Road.
Rangiriri Redoubt, Waikato
This is the British position, reworking the earlier Maori rear position at Rangiri. The British engineers have formalised a pattern of projecting angles to offer enfilading fire along each flank. It is the most significant extant earthwork of the engagement here, but does not survive in its original Maori form. An historic reserve managed by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, the area is grazed by sheep which are creating some tracks but otherwise keeping the site in clean, visible condition. The view is to the north-west.
Two pā near Otorohanga, southern Waikato
Both pā form simple double rectangular enclosures, about 65 m long and 12 m wide, on high points in the ridges.
Left. The near end of the pā has used a strong natural defensive position at the head of a steep slope, but with a weak point on the near ridge (sloping down to the left). This had been defended by a double ditch and bank. The farm road has been constrained to enter the pā at this point, rising up to the platform, and cutting through the middle and far transverse ditches. Clearly there was no option for the road to go to the right around the pā, but perhaps it might have been better routed by the prominent fence running from lower left to the far left corner of the pā?
Below. The pā has been built on country in which a satisfactory farm-roading solution has been possible. The ridge is broad, although narrowing to the right, and the road has skirted the pā almost in its entirety. The road may have cut through and obscured a double ditch on the narrow ridge at right.
For a sense of the past, we will also have to look to remote New Zealand—Fiordland, Kāwhia, Tihirau mai Tawhiti (Cape Runaway), Ahipara—to small, isolated, usually coastal and usually strongly Māori local communities and their settings. This places a duty on those communities, over and above the burden of economic difficulty that they already bear. These will also be the communities that most fiercely resist the outsider gazing in, with or without advice on 'conservation'. Here too, genuine local oral tradition about the setting, refreshed on occasion by reference to published histories such as Tainui, 8 or works like the recent Māori Oral History Atlas, are passed on. 9
We have seen in chapter 9 examples such as the Maketū Peninsula where sites have disappeared rapidly, to judge from the systematic aerial photographic coverage that has been gained and archived since the 1940s. There, both farming and housing development have encroached on formerly large pre-European pā which covered much of the coastal terrace-lands. By contrast, at Nukutaurua, on the small privately owned plots of Māori land on the coastal strip, leading members of the family have returned and built in recent years; in building they have in a large part respected the cultural values of the land. The duty to protect, motivated by improved knowledge of and sensitivity to those values, bears on all New Zealand citizens. Occasionally, the issues and techniques of protection are complex and may require technical or professional advice. On most occasions, however, the solutions are simple and need not cost money. Just because a hill is steep, that is no reason to plant it in trees, obscuring archaeological features and ultimately destroying them. The road planned to go along to the very end of the ridge could easily stop 100 m short and protect the pā constructed there 300 years ago. The fence line does not need a bulldozed track to level its line; there must be techniques for filling undulations in its path with longer battens, or a reorientation of its line.
Whatever the future of the New Zealand historic landscape, and whatever techniques we use to protect and to interpret its meaning, they need not be determined from outside New Zealand. They may not even be determined by national programmes of education and legislation. We have our own indigenous landscape traditions to which archaeological sites can, and indeed should, be referred— Māori have long had ways of referring to their particular cultural landscapes. Even so simple a matter as naming of places can only be done by reference to Māori sources, unless historical mapping is available. This is not to deny a role for archaeologists or to offer them a secondary role. In this book, at places as diverse as Kapowairua (Spirits Bay) and the Māhia Peninsula, it has been possible to analyse the texture of Māori tradition (at a general level), archaeological evidence of Māori settlement, and their relationship to a later or sometimes contemporaneous European history.
This book is not the rigorous systematisation of knowledge called for by Peter Fowler. There is no seamless account of the past, and there are many points of deep ambiguity of meaning for us in the present—for example, in how to give a balanced account of military engagements between Māori and between Māori and European. Publication may provoke a call for a more specifically Māori interpretation of the same landscape features. Māori have always taken up elements of European culture and transformed them to political and cultural needs. This book has depicted historical subjects which range from the apparently trivial—ditch and bank fences—to the profoundly difficult in historical memory—fortifications. Archaeology and archaeologists should maintain independence but they cannot stand completely removed from the transformation of historical fact to social and political agenda.page 274
Katikatiaka, north Taranaki, a pā with a severe erosion problem
The pā on the far ridge is in three segments, each defended by a transverse ditch, with a double ditch at right. At centre is a further unit of the pā built on another piece of ridge. Built on clay ash and older marine sediments, the pā is being rapidly eroded by the sea and is particularly vulnerable to erosion by animals, even by sheep. This photograph, taken in bright overcast conditions, shows the erosion of the banks of the pā in particularly unflattering fashion. Within 100 years, there will be nothing to show for this site, last occupied and defended by Ngāti Mutunga in the 1820s. The view is to the north; a view to the south-east is in chapter 3.
1 Fowler (1983b: 11-12).
2 Stephens et al (1991: 230-231).
3 Stephens et al (1991: 68-70).
4 Griffith (1990: 33).
5 Fowler (1983b).
6 I thank Mr Andrew Ormond, senior, for discussions on the property at Nukutaurua.
7 Cranston (1987: 145-147).
8 Kelly (1949).
9 Te A. Davis and Wilson (1990).