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Human History collection

Archaeology

Our collections

The Archaeology Department looks after New Zealand Māori and European material, collections from other places in the Pacific, and small amounts of material from ancient civilisations and peoples elsewhere in the world. Items in the collection have been recovered as chance finds, or, increasingly, in the course of archaeological excavations.

New Zealand and the Pacific

Māori material includes stone adzes, found mostly by chance and given to the Museum over the years by the finders. Other chance finds from old settlement sites include fishhooks, sinkers, personal ornaments, grindstones and files, and obsidian knives.

Archaeological excavations have resulted in study collections which include not just artefacts such as manufactured tools and ornaments, but also midden material (bird and fish bone and shell), from which diet may be inferred, and charcoal samples for the discovery of past vegetation patterns or establishing the age of early settlements by radiocarbon dating. Keeping together all material from an archaeological dig allows future students and researchers to make more use of it to learn about the past.

New Zealand collections of European origin consist almost entirely of material recovered from excavations, including old bottles, earthenware, clay pipes, buttons, buckles, tin cans, bullets and other metal items. This is the fastest growing part of the Department'’s collections as recent digs in Greater Auckland and the central city add to our knowledge of early European settlement.

Among Pacific material the most important collections are from excavations undertaken in Samoa and Tonga in the 1960s and later. From Pitcairn Island are more than 15,000 pieces of worked (basalt) stone of the Pacific'’s most remarkable stone tool industry.

From around the world

Neolithic Chinese storage jar.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. K2107.
There is a collection of items ranging from ancient Egypt to Roman times. Pots and other items from classical Greece, which played a central role in the growth of European civilisation, are an important resource for students and the general public.

Material which tells of ancient Rome includes amphorae (storage jars) from the Mediterranean seabed. Other European items are from Bronze and Iron Age Swiss Lake Villages, and from Neolithic Denmark and the British Isles.

There is also a small collection from North America, ancient Mexico and Central America and from Peru in South America.

Where to see in the Museum

Objects from the Department’'s collections can be seen in the following galleries:

There are a also few items from the ancient world on show in the Mackelvie Collection and in the Logan Campbell Gallery there are three casts of Greek statues; –‘The Dying Gaul’, Laocoon’, and ‘Discobolus’.  Both galleries can be found on the first floor, and the Museum building itself is a tribute to ancient Greece.