Archaeology is all about the discovery, recovery and interpretation of the surviving evidence of past human activity in its context in or above the ground. Archaeological sites are the relics and ruins of our past and may be on land, in water, or in the coastal marine area.
The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand. A place associated with post-1900 human activity may be declared by gazettal as an archaeological site under the Act.
There are a variety of archaeological sites in New Zealand, including:
- Māori pa sites are fortified places with banks and ditches. They are often found on cliffs, headlands or ridges
- Remains of cultivation areas and gardens can be seen in soils and in the form of lines or walls of loose stones or stone mounds. Other types of site associated with cultivation and settlement include artificially levelled terraces, and pits for storing kumara
- Middens are ‘rubbish dumps’ that may contain shells, bones, artefacts, charcoal and sometimes oven stones. These can be Māori or European.
- Rock art sites which may contain paintings, drawings, carvings or engravings
These site types are described in more detail in a series of brochures published by Heritage New Zealand (contact our National Office to obtain a copy)
The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 makes it unlawful for any person to modify or destroy, or cause to be modified or destroyed, the whole or any part of an archaeological site without the prior authority of Heritage New Zealand. If you wish to do any work that may affect an archaeological site you must obtain an authority from Heritage New Zealand before you begin.
The best way of caring for an archaeological site on a property depends on the type of site, local environment conditions and land use. If an area of land being developed is known to contain archaeological sites then they should not be disturbed if at all possible.
Post-1900 sites such as World War I or II gun emplacements or 20th century industrial sites such as gold mining sites, whaling stations, and sawmills are not currently protected under the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, unless they have been declared by Heritage New Zealand as an archaeological site.
Heritage New Zealand creates and maintains an archaeological guidelines series, with accompanying templates, to provide advice and assistance to the archaeological community on a range of topics. They are an information source for consultant archaeologists and people potentially applying for archaeological authorities. The accompanying templates have been created to support these guidelines.
An exemplary response from Arrow International and Mike Greer Homes after damage to an early moa-hunting site in Christchurch has led to a educational series of videos about the value of archaeology and the importance of the archaeological provisions in the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 in protecting a finite resource.
Heritage New Zealand holds an extensive collection of unpublished archaeological reports resulting from site surveys, excavations, research programmes and archaeological authorities. There are over 5500 volumes dating from the early 1970s to the present in the collection.