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).
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.
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.