Archaeology and modern network science are combining to investigate the development of Māori social networks over time as part of a new three year $705,000 Marsden-funded project.
The research draws upon the skills of archaeologist Professor Thegn Ladefoged and network scientists Dr Dion O’Neal and Associate Professor Marcus Frean from Te Pūnaha Matataini, a Centre of Research Excellence in complex systems and networks. The research team also includes Associate Professor Mark McCoy from the USA’s Southern Methodist University, and Alex Jorgensen from the University of Auckland who will use portable X-ray fluorescence to characterize and source obsidian artefacts. Assistant Professor Chris Stevenson from Virginia Commonwealth University will develop obsidian hydration dating of artefacts to establish tight chronological control of changing levels of interaction.
Professor Ladefoged from the University of Auckland explains that over centuries relatively autonomous village-based Māori groups have transformed into larger territorial hapū lineages, which later formed even larger iwi associations.
Information passed down through generations by word of mouth has traditionally provided the best evidence of these complex, dynamic changes in Māori social organisation. The research group’s novel combination of archaeological and network science skills aims to provide new insights into these social changes.
“By researching ancient obsidian tools and their movement across New Zealand we can reconstruct historical systems of inter-iwi trade,” Professor Ladefoged says.
The research group will then combine this archaeological and location data with social network analysis modelling and local iwi input to provide new insights into how Māori society was transformed from village-based groups to powerful hapū and iwi.
Network analysis will enable the group to look for patterns of how archaeological sites, artefacts and obsidian sources relate to one another, and how those relationships have changed over time, explains associate investigator Dr Dion O’Neale.
“Based on those changing relationships we can put forward hypotheses about the roles played by geography or social groupings in producing the distributions of obsidian that we observe,” Dr O’Neale says.
The collaborative research project also aims to connect or reconnect Māori with their taonga held in museums and university archaeology collections.
Te Pūnaha Matatini Director Professor Shaun Hendy says the project demonstrates the ability of New Zealand’s Centres of Research Excellence to connect and amplify the efforts of researchers across a wide range of fields and locations.
“We all know that research needs to become more interdisciplinary, but we also know that this is easier said than done,” Professor Hendy says.
“I am really pleased that Thegn and his team have taken advantage of Te Pūnaha Matatini’s diverse network of researchers to tackle such an exciting project.”