New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(2): 167- 180

Early Maori settlement impacts in northern coastal Taranaki, New Zealand

Research Article
Janet M. Wilmshurst 1
Thomas F. G. Higham 2
Harry Allen 3
Dilys Johns 3
Caroline Phillips 4
  1. Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln 8152, New Zealand
  2. Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, 6 Keble Road, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QJ, U.K.
  3. Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Archaeological Consultant, 40 Laingholm Drive, Laingholm, Auckland. New Zealand

Pollen and charcoal analyses of sediments from northern coastal Taranaki, New Zealand, show that Maori settlement impacts on the vegetation began with the burning of tall coastal forest in the mid-17th century. Forest was replaced with a fern-shrubland, and small wetlands expanded with changing hydrological conditions. This forest clearance was much later than in most regions of the country, where major forest disturbance and clearance began between AD 1200 and AD 1400. However, Maori were known to be using the forested coastal Taranaki landscape from at least AD 1300 to hunt the now extinct moa, and to collect shellfish, but neither of these activities necessarily required forest clearance or permanent settlement. Preserved rat-gnawed seeds in the wetland deposits provide evidence for the presence of the introduced kiore (Polynesian rat, Rattus exulans) in coastal Taranaki from about AD 1200, significantly before forest clearance or permanent human settlement. Although kiore were present in the coastal forests for as much as 400 years before forest clearance, the pollen records do not show any changes in forest composition during this time.