A molecular study of a rare Maori cloak
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Kakahu or Maori cloaks are taonga (treasures) and are iconic expressions of Maori culture. Unfortunately much of the original information relating to the 'origins of the cloaks' has been lost. We present mitochondrial 12S sequence data from feathers sampled from a rare cloak that appeared to have been adorned with feathers from New Zealand moa. These species belonged to the ratite group of birds and have been extinct since soon after human arrival in New Zealand. Using microscopic amounts of feather tissues from this cloak, we have been able to show that this garment was actually adorned with Australian emu feathers. At the likely time of construction of the cloak, the then Governor of New Zealand, George Grey, kept emu on Kawau Island in the Hauraki Gulf. It seems probable that the remains of these individuals were the source of the feathers used, although we are not able to exclude the possibility that Maori obtained them as a result of early trading with Australia. To our knowledge this study is the first to use genetic techniques to identify the species of bird used in feather adorned Maori cloaks and illustrates the potential for molecular techniques to provide important information about these taonga.
Archaeological Science Under a Microscope: studies in residue and ancient DNA analysis in honour of Thomas H. Loy
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Social and Cultural Anthropology