New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1981) 4: 33- 36

Exploitation and Redistribution of Flax Snail (Placostylus) by the Prehistoric Maori

Research Article
Bruce W. Hayward 1
Fred J. Brook 2
  1. New Zealand Geology Survey, P.O. Box 30368, Lower Hutt, New Zealand
  2. Geology Department, University of Auckland, Private Bag, Auckland, New Zealand

In a rock shelter on Tawhiti Rahi, one of the Poor Knights Islands, northern New Zealand, shells of Placostylus hongii (some of which are broken and charred) occur in a hearth earth and on the floor in association with adze-worked wood. This provides conclusive evidence that the flax snail was eaten by the prehistoric Maori. While some may have been eaten raw, it seems most Placostylus were cooked on the embers of a fire, then the shell broken open and the meat extracted.

Powell (1938) suggested that the populations of P. hongii on the Poor Knights and some other northern offshore islands were accidentally introduced there in leaf mould by the prehistoric Maori when transplanting karakas from the mainland. This previously unrecorded exploitation of Placostylus for food, however, provides an incentive for the Maoris to purposely transfer these snails to the offshore islands and possibly also around other parts of Northland.