Rekindling a Samoan stone adze

An international collaboration between the Tiapapata Art Centre, Puke Ariki, and the Museum of Stone Tools

An aspiration of the Museum of Stone Tools is to work with overseas researchers and institutions to produce 3D models of stone tool types that we do not have access to at our home base in regional Australia.  One way of achieving this is to have an overseas collaborator photograph the artefact for us to physically ‘rekindle’ in Australia using 3D modelling and printing.  

In May 2024, MoST is partnering with the Tiapapata Art Centre in Samoa to deliver a public stone adze-making workshop (~Rock~Paper~Scissors), and this seemed like a good time to attempt the rekindling project.  We chose to find and target a traditional Samoan stone adze from the historic period, still bound to its wood handle.

I did an extensive web search for examples of hafted Samoan adzes in museums around the world and found these tools in major collections at  Te Papa Tongarewa (the Museum of New Zealand), the Field Museum of Natural History, and the British Museum.

I also found an image of a hafted adze at Puke Ariki, a small museum in the regional town of New Plymouth, New Zealand.

I contacted each of these museums, proposing we work together to model one of their Samoan hafted adzes for the upcoming ~Rock~Paper~Scissors workshop. The only response was from Nicholas Setteducato, Puke Ariki’s Digital Systems and Product Specialist.  

Nick and his colleague Rosie Moyes happily agreed to work with the MoST photogrammetry team—Emma Watt and Mary-Anne Stone—to model Puke Ariki’s hafted adze, an initiative endorsed by Galumalemana Steven Percival of the Tiapapata Art Centre.  This was part of a larger initiative between MoST, Tiapapata, and the Samoan government to model seven unhafted Samoan adzes at our photogrammetry lab at the University of New England.  You can find these models in the Museum’s Oceania section.  

MoST, Tiapata, and Puke Ariki discussed and agreed to the collaboration over a Zoom call.  The next step was for Nick and Rosie to take the photos of the adze using Emma’s photography protocols.  Puke Ariki soon sent us about 200 high-resolution photographs of the hafted adze.

A few unforeseen challenges arose as Emma and Mary-Anne began processing the data because the loose binding on the hafted adze shifted slightly between photos.  This complicated the merging together of the two model chunks, and manipulations to overcome this issue then caused problems with applying the texture to the mesh.  After much discussion and trial-and-error with software settings and tools, Mary-Anne and Emma were able to produce a good model of the Samoan hafted adze, which you can view here.

The next step was to physically rekindle the hafted adze through the magic of 3D printing.  Emma organised on the printer plate and, after about 23 hours, a perfect reproduction of the Samoan adze came to life in Australia.  

Pythagorean philosophers used the term ‘palingenesis’ to refer to the soul’s rebirth in new individuals, and as we watched the adze’s new incarnation slowly emerge on the printer, this ancient concept seemed very relevant.

The printouts will be carried from Australia to Samoa for the adze-making workshop, where we will use them as a reference in our attempts to make similar tools.  In a sense, the Puke Ariki adze will be returning home in spirit, attesting to an unlikely form of agency for these traditional tools.  

Our case study has shown how relatively simple and low-cost digital techniques can rekindle difficult-to-access cultural artefacts for education, outreach, and cultural revitalisation.