And those species are only what we have identified so far. The taonga we found, in collaboration with New Zealand museums, will allow us to build a picture of pre-human Northland. Sadly, some species are globally extinct, like the Sea Lion, Moa, Raven and Moho, while others are locally extinct. If they survive elsewhere in New Zealand, they could potentially be reintroduced one day to Northland.
At our basecamp at Kapowairua, we kōrero with Ngāti Kuri, their kaumātua and tamariki. In our makeshift museum discovery centre, all around me, a variety of scientists including botanists, marine and freshwater biologists, entomologists, (so called bug people), and museum communicators, also back from the field, shared their discoveries with avid listeners. Personally, I was saddened at how much knowledge of the natural whakapapa has been lost in the passage of time, so it felt good to be able to give something back; my expertise and knowledge helping Ngāti Kuri to rediscover their past. The Sea Lion, Tuatara, Kiwi and Moho are a hit. The children in our audience may be the generation that sees Northland returned somewhat to its former natural glory. Eradicating introduced predators, and that other technicolour dream coat, the invasive South American Pampas, (no, it’s not Toetoe as one tourist exclaimed), would be a good start.
On my last evening in Northland, I sat on the beach at Kapowairua/Spirits Bay. The beach swept in a long, uninterrupted arch northwest towards Te Rerenga Wairua/Cape Reinga. The sun set over the geologically folded landscape of hill country to the west. Dark rainclouds, remnants of the storm that washed out the road south, (we still didn’t know if it was open yet), moved in front of me, creating a ghostly atmosphere, the hills drifting in and out of focus. It was as if the layers of time had been folded back, allowing me to look backwards so I could see a future. It was my little Slice of Heaven before the rat race beckoned.
Together, Fred’s Moho skull and the ghostly scene that evening are a metaphor for why we were there and what we had accomplished: ‘kia whakatōmuri te haere whakamua [I walk backwards into the future with my eyes fixed on my past]’. One day soon, Ngāti Kuri will be able to bring some of their lost taonga and ancestors home. I would love to be part of that exciting journey, Back to the Future.
This post was originally published on Sciblogs . It has been republished with permission.
Caption: The land vertebrates team at its table at the Kapowairua base camp. Left to right: Josie Galbriath, Robert Vennell, Matt Rayner, Nic Rawlence, Ruby Moore, Darryl Jeffries. Absent: Fred, Ewen Brook and Wilma Blom. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Carol/Auckland Museum.
Nic Rawlence is a lecturer in ancient DNA at the University of Otago and director of the Otago Palaeogenetics Laboratory. Nic’s research focuses on using ancient DNA to reconstruct past ecosystems, understand how these ecosystems were affected by human impact and climate change, and how this knowledge can improve conservation management of New Zealand's unique biodiversity.
Matt Rayner specialises in the study of bird behaviour, ecology and evolution. With a particular interest in New Zealand and Pacific birds, Matt works with research, conservation and advocacy groups in Australasia and the Pacific through his role as curator of land vertebrates at Auckland Museum and as a research associate of the University of Auckland