How much is that doggie in the window? The one with the…

A waggley tail is among the many body parts missing from this particular dog. One of the more unusual items acquired by Te Papa recently was this mounted dog’s head, claimed to be a kurī (Māori dog).

LM002857. Mounted dog head, claimed to be a kurī (Māori dog). Photo: Alan Tennyson, Te Papa

Kurī were brought to New Zealand from Polynesia by the ancestors of Māori, and were found throughout the country at the time of early European contact. Kurī were highly valued by Māori as a source of skins, meat for consumption by chiefs and priests, as well as for hunting birds. Kurī bones were used to make tools, and their bones, teeth and fur were used to make necklaces and pendants. However, kurī were rapidly replaced by or crossed with European dogs, a pattern repeated throughout Polynesia. As a result, kurī have long been extinct, and few specimens are known to exist.

Kurī were small, long-haired dogs about the size of a border collie. Like other Polynesian dogs, they were short-legged, with pricked ears, a terrier-like snout, and a powerful jaw. Most were white, or white with dark patches, but some were black.

LM000828. Kurī (Māori dog) on display in Te Papa exhibit ‘Blood, Earth, Fire: Whangai, Whenua, Ahi Ka’. Te Papa image MA_I006390

Te Papa has a mounted kurī on display in the exhibition ‘Blood, Earth, Fire: Whangai, Whenua, Ahi Ka’. This was one of two shot in the Catlins district in 1876. The only other intact mounted kuri known to exist is in Otago Museum.

Little is known about the provenance of the head recently acquired by Te Papa. Is it genuine? Is it a hoax? Is it a case of mistaken identity? We can address these questions now that the specimen is in the Te Papa collection. The Natural Environment team will be investigating further using a variety of genetic and forensic techniques.

LM002857. Mounted dog head, claimed to be a kurī (Māori dog). Photo: Alan Tennyson, Te Papa

2 Responses

  1. Ken Hall

    Offering another blog for blog here:
    You’ll note that it includes the picture from yours (I hope sufficiently credited – details at bottom of pic when you click the tag). Enjoyed your blog and hope this one is also of interest.

  2. Tim Caulton

    I remember seeing this at A+O


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