For over 100 years anthropologists, ethnologists, and wood carvers have been debating if it is possible to tell whether a Māori carving has been done from stone or metal tools.

The recent repatriation of the Motunui epa to Taranaki has revived debate around whether or not they were carved with stone or metal tools. The Stone vs. Metal project was designed to try and replicate carved components of the Motunui panels using nephrite and metal chisels carried out on ‘green’ totara (favoured timber types in Taranaki).
The project worked with carvers, schools and nephrite specialists to examine the use of stone and metal carving tools. The questions posed were: are carvers able to achieve the same quality of workmanship with stone and metal tools – which were used to carve the Motunui epa? What does this mean for other carvings in New Zealand?
This project was led by Puke Ariki and involved students from Manukōrihi Intermediate, local master carvers and science partner Dr Russell Beck (NZ’s foremost expert in nephrite). Students explored the properties of traditional pounamu carving tools and compared these with their metal counterparts. The project culminated in a two-day workshop that saw master carvers using traditional pounamu tools to replicate the designs seen on the Motunui pataka panels. This project provided a good blend of science, history and culture – using local taonga as a learning platform.
Story from Stuff on workshop: