Important reminder on finding archaeological artefacts


Heading into the holiday period Heritage New Zealand is reminding people what to do if potential archaeological artefacts are unearthed and how to avoid breaking the law.

Last summer there was heightened media interest in fossicking and the use of metal detectors as holiday makers visited traditional hot-spots such as beaches and walking tracks.

Heritage New Zealand Senior Archaeologist Pam Bain says it is important that items found are left where they are, covered up if possible, and reported to Heritage New Zealand.  From an archaeological perspective an artefact loses its context once removed from its site and there is the potential any other artefacts nearby could also be damaged.

“There will be times when archaeological artefacts are found as a result of erosion and other natural weather factors, and people genuinely don’t know what they should do.

“However, searching for artefacts is becoming a more organised activity for some, and it appears that private and public property is being targeted.  This includes coastal areas such as beaches, parks, farms and building sites. 

“It’s really important that those involved in this activity are reminded that it is unlawful to damage or alter an archaeological site.”

The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 activity where there may be evidence relating to New Zealand’s history. 

“Archaeological sites essentially cover from the mountains to the sea and everything in between.  If people come across something they think is interesting it’s crucial they leave it where it is, and especially do not go digging it up.  Leave it where it is, cover it if possible, take a photo of the site’s location if you can and report it. 

“Any discovery can enhance our understanding of our history and that’s why it’s crucial that any removing and identifying of our heritage is carried out by experts so that significant information isn’t lost or destroyed.”

While Heritage New Zealand preferred to inform through education, there were instances where prosecution results.

“We are the regulators of archaeology in New Zealand and sometimes court action is necessary.”

For more information

Pam Bain
Senior Archaeologist
Heritage New Zealand
tel: (04) 470 8055 or 027 499 4852