About Waihinga Anthropological Research

A University with no Faculties
Foss Leach and Janet Davidson were at the University of Otago until 1987, when they moved to the suburb of Paparangi in Wellington. Foss retired as Associate Professor of Prehistory that year and founded the Archaeozoology Laboratory at the National Museum of New Zealand (forerunner of Te Papa). Janet was Honorary Lecturer in Anthropology at Otago until they moved and was then appointed as Ethnologist at the same Museum and later as Curator Pacific Collections when the Museum was transformed into the present-day Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The move away from Otago University was not a clean break as Foss still had duties supervising a number of graduate students completing doctorates and Masters' degrees. Their home in Wellington quickly became known as the University of Paparangi as academic colleagues and senior students frequently came to visit and stay at their home, sometimes for months on end. When Foss and Janet finally retired after 15 years at Te Papa in 2002 to Ngakuta Bay in the Marlborough Sounds this 'open house' pattern continued, so the University of Ngakuta was born.

Although the name may be a little whimsical, there is a serious side too. We both continue an active involvement in research work on several fronts and give a helping hand to graduate students and colleagues both in New Zealand and abroad. The real difference is that we no longer get paid to do research; we pay for it ourselves. Our rate of publications has naturally slowed down as we are no longer victims of the culture of output and outcome. The University of Ngakuta is a genuine open university in the sense that it has no faculties, something which prompted one our friends to remind us of the adage that 'old academics never die, they just lose their faculties'.

In 2013 we moved away from the Marlborough Sounds to a sunny little corner of New Zealand called Martinborough in the Wairarapa. This town of about 1300 people is where Foss spent his boyhood, so for him this move was a case of 'coming home'. For Janet it represents closer proximity to opera, ballet and concerts in Wellington. They have both already become immersed in research relating to Maori and early European history in the Wairarapa area. Further information about us can be found on Wikipedia, here and here.

A list of our main publications is provided in the two links below. These do not include minor publications such as reviews, but the lists are otherwise fairly up to date. Some of these papers are available as pdf files and can be downloaded from Academia.edu We still have some hard copies of offprints so send one of us an email if you need something.
Link to Publications of Janet Davidson
Link to Publications of Foss Leach

Current Research Projects
There is old adage that for every day that an archaeologist spends in the field he or she will have to spend at least ten days working in a laboratory carrying out research on things gathered during excavation. Something only whispered in hushed tones is another adage that any one project can take ten years to complete. Foss recently published a paper on an excavation he carried out 40 years ago, so obviously ten years can be a serious under-estimate.

Needless to say both Janet and Foss have numerous unfinished projects now that we are retired. Some need a lot of work for completion to publication stage, and some are 90% written up ready to publish but finding the time and energy for the final 10% means that there is not always an immediate end in sight. What follows is therefore a selection of projects that is best called our wish list.

Janet Davidson Projects
Station Bay Pa on Motutapu Island
Excavations at the Station Bay Pa (Ororopupu) in the summer of 1970-71 were part of the final stage of the Auckland Museumís archaeological research programme on Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf. A preliminary report was published in 1972. A final report, in which the pa is placed in the context of all previous excavations on the island, is now approaching completion. The report includes an analysis of faunal remains, which has led to a separate project on size distribution of catís eye (Lunella smaragda), using measurements of opercula.
Experimental kumara gardening
This is a collaborative project now under the umbrella of the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand headed by Mike Burtenshaw and Tony Tomlin and involving Janet Davidson and Foss Leach. Two small gardens with traditional varieties of kumara in them were established on both sides of Cook Strait and harvested each year to evaluate changes in yield over time. Regular soil samples are taken for analysis to monitor changes in soil nutrients. The original plan was to evaluate how long it would take for the soil to be so depleted that it was no longer sensible for use as a kumara garden. To our surprise, after 11 years there is still no end in sight.
Te Papaís collections of Maori, Pacific and Native American objects from the voyages of James Cook
Te Papa holds probably the largest unpublished collection of artificial curiosities from Cookís voyages. These items came to Te Papa from no fewer than seven different sources. Many are well documented; however, the alleged Cook voyage provenance of some can probably never be proved. This project will describe the various ways in which these interesting and often beautiful objects came to rest in Te Papa and provide a full catalogue of the objects themselves.
"A married man needs a job"
Correspondence (1914-1918) between H D Skinner, who became one of New Zealandís great museum directors, and J. Allan Thomson, director of Te Papaís forerunner, the Dominion Museum, is preserved in Te Papaís Archives. The letters reveal Skinnerís passionate desire for a career as a museum ethnologist and document the extraordinary energy he devoted to museological projects in Britain during his convalescence after being wounded at Gallipoli and subsequent studies at Cambridge University, before returning to New Zealand. They also reveal something of Thomsonís own interests and abilities as a mentor. The correspondence has been transcribed and a paper with extensive excerpts is proposed.
Excavations at Sarahís Gully, Coromandel, and Pig Bay, Motutapu Island.
Jack Golsonís pioneering excavations at Sarahís Gully and Pig Bay in the 1950s provided the basis for his influential 1959 paper on "Culture change in prehistoric New Zealand", but the excavations were never fully published. This project will document the data from three sites at Sarahís Gully and one on Motutapu, place them in the context at the time and assess their significance 50 years later.

Foss Leach Projects
Ptaquiloside toxicity and fern root diet
It is well known that fern root fiddle heads are poisonous and the active ingredient has been identified as ptaquiloside. In spite of the toxicity, fiddle heads are a popular delicacy in many countries. It is less well known that the carbohydrate rich rhyzome is also toxic. Efforts to use the rhyzome as stock food with various proportions of other ingredients such as corn flour have all resulted in severe diseases and death amongst livestock. This project is aimed at trying to understand how pre-European Maori consumed fern root without these advserse effects, Fern root is harvested at monthly intervals through the year and subject to several processes which may have resulted in detoxification such as storage, leaching in water, roasting, etc. Toxicity to humans is assessed by adding aliquots of these samples to cultures of liver cells and examining survival rates. The project involves collaboration between Foss Leach, Janet Davidson, Milke Burtenshaw, Tony Tomlin and Paul Davis.
Methyl mercury in ancient human bones
Mercury is found in seawater throughout the world's oceans, averaging about 0.00015 ppm (0.15 ppb). This finds its way into marine organisms in the organic form, methy-mercury, and accumulates in concentration further and further up trophic levels in the food chain. Yellowfin tuna can have up to 1.5 ppm, representing a 10,000-fold increase. This is well above FDA guidelines for human consumption. Other top marine predators, such as sharks, seals, and pilot whales have even higher levels of organic mercury. Some prehistoric people in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world are known to have targetted these top predators in their fishing and hunting activities. This project involves analysis of prehistoric human bone from the Faroe islands in the north Atlantic and several Pacific islands to see whether mercury levels in their diet constituted a health problem .
Charactiation of obsidian sources in Japan
The volcanic glass obsidian was a highly valued material for prehistoric people throughout the Pacific region whenever it could be found and used. It was also an item of trade and exchange. To identify the source of any artefacts found in archaeological sites it is necessary to have a complete inventory of all potential sources and to have characterised the geochemical composition of each. This project is aimed at characterising 20 of the most important sources of obsidian in the four main islands of Japan. Samples from each source have been subjected to PIXE-PIGME analysis using the accelerator at Lucas Heights in Australia and compared to other known sources within the Pacific basin.
A Cook islands adze from Whatarangi Palliser Bay
A fully fashioned adze was found in Palliser Bay on the surface in close vicinity to an archaeological site known locally as The Great Wall of Whatarangi, now largely destroyed during subdivision for housing. The form of this adze is clearly Cook Island in character. The geochemistry of the stone was examined by XRF, and thin section mineralogical analysis was undertaken to shed light on the origin of the stone.
Lithology and form of waisted blades from Bougainville
A small collection of stone tools was found in South Bougainville where the Nagovisi people live by Jill Nash and Donald Mitchell 1969-1971. They published a note on these finds in the Journal of the Polynesian Society in 1973. This present project is aimed at a more detailed descriptive analysis of the tools, including quality drawings and lithological analysis from thin sections.
Archaeozoology of New Zealand fishes
A basic part of the analysis of fish remains from archaeological sites involves estimating the size of fishes that prehistoric people caught, partly to identify predation strategies and also to examine changes in fish populations through time that follow from the impact of humans on marine resources. Such research requires detailed study of modern specimens of fish species. This involves catching a large sample (100-200 specimens) which covers the full size range, boiling them down, extracting the bones, measuring them, and then carrying out statistical anlsysis, so that the original length and weight of a fish can be estimated from a single bone fragment. This background research is very time consuming, but essential for higher level research. Samples of Tarakihi Nemadactylus macropterus, Eels Anguilla dieffenbachii and Anguilla australis, albacore Thunnus alalunga, greenbone Odax pullus, moki Latridopsis ciliaris, and Ling Genypterus blacodes
have been prepared and measured and mathematical analysis is underway, preparatory to publishing useful allometric equations.
Faunal Analysis of archaeological sites in the Pacific and New Zealand
Fish remains from a series of archaeological sites in the Pacific (Mangaia Mound on Tongatapu, and the Lapita site on New Caledonia) and New Zealand (Orongorongo near Cape Turakirae, Tumbledown Bay Banks Peninsula, and Pukenamu near Te Horo Kapiti Coast) have been identified to species and in some cases measured for catch-size information. This research requires completion as a series of papers for publication.
Population biomass from archeaological bones of snapper
The harvesting of fish populations in New Zealand is managed on the basis that harvesting rates should be sustainable. To this end the fishery is subject to a quota management system (QMS). Setting harvesting quotas involves an understanding of the population dynamics of each fish species. There are many variables involved in successful modeling of such a dynamic system: growth rate, recruitment rate, etc. One variable is a concept called virgin biomass, or B0 which is an estimate of the unexploited population size of each species. The effect of pre-European Maori on the fishery is considered to have been negligable, and the value of B0 is sometimes taken to be the estimated population size in 1935. A project has been underway for several years to see if B0 could be estimated for the New Zealand Snapper species Pagrus auratus directly from a large sample of archaeological bones from a very early archaeological site known as Twilight Beach on the north-western tip of New Zealand dated to about AD 1300. This is a collaborative project between Foss Leach, Tony Pitcher and Divya Varkey of University of British Columbia, and Peter Macdonald of McMaster University.
Re-dating Palliser Bay archaeological sites with accelerator mass spectrometry
A series of 25 excavations was carried out in Palliser Bay between 1969-1972. This was before the days of accelerator radiocarbon dating, so large charcoal samples were dated after careful scrutiny to avoid inbuilt age by selecting only charcoal from small twigs from short-lived species. In two important cases, Brian Molloy, who assisted with characoal identification, could only find long-lived species in samples, and these were dated in the fore-knowledge that there was a possibility of significant inbuilt age and that they might give radiocarbon dates that were too old. With the development of accelerator mass spectrometry it is now possible to date minute-sized samples. Fortunately, large samples from these excavations were kept, and all charcoal samples from the two sites in question were re-studied and carbonised seeds from food remains were selected for accelerator dating.

This page is Maintained by Foss Leach. For any enquires send email to Foss Leach
Last modified on Sat 18 June 2013
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