Peter Clarke, of Arrowtown, asks :-
Did pre-european Maori count using a base ten decimal system and therefore by inference had invented zero?
Garry Tee, a mathematician at the University of Auckland, responded.
For this question I also consulted Wiremu Solomon. In Polynesian languages quite large numbers were used, for instance when counting fish or yams.
In Maori (as in the other Polynesian languages) the number system is purely decimal, with the numeral words formed on base ten more regularly than the English words. In English, the words thirteen up to nineteen are all formed on the same pattern, but twenty to ninety-nine have a different pattern, and the words eleven and twelve do not follow any pattern. However, in Maori 1 = tahi/kotahi, 2 = rua, 3 = toru, 4 = wha, 5 = rima, 6 = ono, 7 = whitu, 8 = waru, 9 = iwa, 10 = tekau, 11 = tekau ma tahi, 12 = tekau ma rua, . . . , 20 = rua tekau, 21 = rua tekau ma tahi, 22 = rua tekau ma rua, . . . , 100 = rau, 101 = rau ma tahi, 102 = rau ma rua; and that regular pattern continues.
There was no concept of zero in Polynesian languages, until it was introduced by pakeha in the 19th century.
In New Zealand, the missionary William Williams initially misunderstood Maori counting practice, and in the first edition of his Maori-English dictionary (in 1844) he claimed that Maoris counted by elevens. He gave words purported to mean (eleven times eleven) and (eleven times eleven times eleven): actually, they meant hundred and thousand. That blunder was corrected in all later editions of Williams's dictionary - but reports continued to be published until the 1980s that the Maoris used eleven as the base of their number system.