Reminder on how to deal with koiwi


Take note and report – that’s the message from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) to anyone that finds kōiwi tangata (human remains).

The message follows the discovery of a human skull and other bones on Nelson shoreline on Sunday. The bones are estimated to be between 50 and 150 years old.

NZHPT Central Region Archaeologist David Rudd says while people may have a naturally inquisitive nature it is important they are aware of what to do when finding kōiwi tangata.

“It’s important to contact the local police as soon as kōiwi tangata are found.  They will contact NZHPT and local iwi and together they will evaluate whether the remains are a crime scene or historic in origin. Any recovery and investigation should be left to the experts.”

The NZHPT, which administers the management of archaeological sites, has a relationship with tangata whenua, police and local authorities.  Each of the three police communication units (Northern, Central and Southern) have contact phone numbers for designated NZHPT regional archaeologists.

If the remains are considered to be pre-1900 and likely to be tangata whenua, the NZHPT will liaise with the appropriate iwi or hapu.  Mr Rudd says the NZHPT share concerns with iwi that burial sites are treated with respect, and that handling and removing of kōiwi tangata and historical artefacts did not become targets for fossickers.

“If you find what you think is kōiwi tangata or an archaeological artefact it’s important that you leave it where it is, take note of its location and report it as soon as possible,” says Mr Rudd.

He says appropriate respect should be given, which included avoiding the temptation to take close-up photos of the discovery and then share them on social media.

The NZHPT has a guideline document available on how to deal with kōiwi tangata available. The discovery of human bones is not uncommon given the increasing development of coastal areas previously occupied by Māori and the level of natural erosion that often exposes kōiwi tangata.

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