21 Jan 2012

Study of teeth may reveal toi moko origin

7:35 am on 21 January 2012

A Waikato University researcher has come up with a way of identifying the origins of preserved Maori heads.

She says the mineral content in the teeth could provide a telling clue as to which part of the country the head comes from.

The heads, also known as toi moko, were traded in New Zealand in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Hundreds are kept are Te Papa but curators have had trouble working out where some of them come from.

Nicky Cameron from Waikato University has been analysing the enamel in possum teeth and recording the mineral content.

She says the unique set of trace elements found in the possum's teeth provide a snapshot of their local geography.

She says analysing the teeth in the Maori heads and matching the results to the mineral content of the possum teeth could reveal which part of the country each head comes from.