Researchers from Waikato University have announced that new scientific tests carried out on the enamel of possum teeth, may enable them to find the key to the origins of many Māori Toi Moko.
The Māori are the native or indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. They arrived in New Zealand from eastern Polynesia in several waves at some time before 1300 CE.
Over several centuries in isolation, the Māori developed a unique culture with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and warrior culture… Toi moko is the name given to human remains of Maori origin. Most specifically they refer to the heads of Maori warriors killed in battle.
Such remains are considered sacred by the Maori to whom their appropriation by other cultures is a source of distress.
They were traditionally kept as trophies after tribal wars and were later traded for weapons and goods with European explorers and traders during the 1700s and 1800s. In recent events, 20 tattooed Maori ancestral heads (Toi Moko) were returned to New Zealand in an agreement between European museums and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Roughly 320 ancestral remains have been returned to New Zealand from various countries and museums since the 1980’s, however, it is believed that there are at least 500 Toi Moko heads alone in public and private collections across Europe and America.
Researchers are often left without clues to the lineage and ancestry of the remains, often piecing through 200 year old ships logs, merchant accounts and private catalogues to find some link to the past of the Toi Moko.
A researcher from Waikato University, Nicky Cameron has been collecting possum teeth in the hope that they may hold the key to the Toi Moko in the enamel of young possum, local to certain geopraphic locations of many pre-European Maori and Moriori
The research is investigating comparable minerals in the enamel that can be matched to geological records through tiny variations in the local food and water. This variation can be comparable between the young possum enamel and Toi Moko.
Research published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology by Ms Cameron was described as “the methodology showed potential for identifying geographic origins.”
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