Protecting archaeological heritage
New Zealand has over 70,000 recorded archaeological sites. Many potential tracks trails and outdoor access opportunities could pass by or over an archaeological site. So it is important that you check first before you start building.
Archaeological sites are an irreplaceable part of our heritage. Our history is rich, varied and unique, and belongs to all New Zealanders. What we discover from archaeological sites helps us better understand our past and learn from it.
If you wish to do any work that may affect an archaeological site you need to contact Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The sites can 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. This could include buildings, structures or shipwrecks. A place associated with post-1900 human activity may also be declared by gazettal as an archaeological site under the Act.
New Zealand has been settled since as early as the 14th century, so there are many layers of history that reflect successive patterns of land use and occupation over hundreds of years.
Archaeological sites here include Māori pa and associated middens (historic rubbish dumps), cultivation areas and gardens, rock art sites and urupā (burial sites). Consulting with iwi is a very important part of the archaeological process.
The Archaeological Authority process
The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 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 Archaeological Authority from Heritage New Zealand before you begin.
This is the case regardless of whether the land on which the site is located is designated, or the activity is permitted under the District or Regional Plan or a resource or building consent has been granted.
This work could include, amongst other things:
- Residential developments, building walkways and cycleways, earthworks for forestry tracks, planting and harvesting, fencing, landscaping and trenching
- Road construction
- Building demolition
- Alteration of a shipwreck
If you uncover a previously unknown site during earthworks, you will need permission to continue. You must stop any work that could affect the site and contact Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZfor advice on how to proceed.
The Act has strong provisions for non-compliance. Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ wants to see the best outcome for archaeological sites and help ensure your project runs smoothly.
By complying with your Archaeological Authority conditions you help add to the country's knowledge and help us preserve our heritage for the future.
What to do if you find an archaeological object
Archaeological objects can be exposed through natural processes, like coastal erosion, or earthworks and development. It is important if people do find something that they leave it where found and cover it up, if possible, before contacting Heritage New Zealand.
When an object is removed not only may it be an offence, but it undermines our understanding of context and history and could lead to further site damage. If an object has already been removed it should be passed to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Heritage New Zealand or your local museum for assessing and returning to the rightful owner.
If koiwi (human remains) are found the police should be contacted in the first instance. They will contact the local iwi and Heritage New Zealand to ensure all cultural protocols are adhered to in accordance with Maori tikanga (custom) ahead of removal and reburial.
Searching for significant heritage sites and landmarks
You can search the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (formerly the Register) for information about New Zealand's significant heritage places, including Ngā Manawhenua o Aotearoa me ōna Kōrero Tūturu/National Historic Landmarks.
The Archaeological Reports Digital Library which contains a wealth of information – you may be interested in searching by place to see what you can find.
Contacting Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ
Heritage New Zealand has archaeologists at Antrim House in Wellington and at six regional offices who you can contact for more information.
Antrim House, Wellington
- 04 472 4341
Kerikeri (office for Northland) Northland Area Office
- 09 407 0470
Auckland (office for Auckland, Thames/Coromandel and Hauraki) Northern Regional Office
- 09 307 9920
Tauranga (office for Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne) Lower Northern Area Office
- 07 577 4530
Wellington (office for Wairarapa, Manawatū, Hawke's Bay, Tararua, Taranaki, Whanganui, Wellington, Nelson and Marlborough) Central Regional Office
- 04 494 8320
- Email email@example.com
Christchurch (office for Canterbury, South Canterbury, Kaikoura and West Coast) Southern Regional Office
- Phone 03 357 9629
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Otago/Southland Area Office (Dunedin (office for Otago, North Otago, Southland)
- 03 477 9871
Each track building group is different — you may wish to talk with your Regional Field Advisor so you get up-to-date advice and knowledge.