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Ethnology

Artefact collections

Ethnology220The ethnography collections are primarily concentrated on New Zealand Māori and the Pacific Islands.

The focus of the ethnology collection is to represent and preserve a well-balanced range of arts and material culture from New Zealand Māori and Moriori, tropical Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, Indonesia, South-East Asia, Australia, Africa and the Americas, in this order of priority.

Objects are collected for their intrinsic importance, but also for their place within a cultural or geographic range or by virtue of the relevance of their maker.

The Auckland Museum ethnology collections are already the premier New Zealand collections in these fields, but continuing active and directed collecting is necessary to maintain this status and to provide Auckland Museum and New Zealand with a prime cultural resource.

Content and scope

The ethnology collections consist of items of material culture from those areas of the world deemed relevant according to Auckland Museum'’s mission statement.  The ethnology collections are characterised by their extreme diversity of types of materials, size and shape, and differing cultural significance.

Materials include heavy stone items, fragile textiles, canoes, small high monetary value items especially jade, feathers, bone, much untreated leaf material in mats and baskets, untreated wood, pottery, bamboo, metals in swords and daggers especially, leathers and animal skins.  Size ranges from full-sized canoes down to minute fishhooks, with very limited standardisation in shape or projections.

Cultural diversity is often the most difficult to assess and requires specialist anthropological knowledge on the part of curators. All of these different types of diversity have important implications for methods of storage, handling, display, acquisition and de-accessioning.

  • Historical background

    The ethnology collections began within the core collection of the Museum from its founding in 1852 and has since grown into separate Archaeology, Decorative and Applied Arts, History and other collections.

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  • Categories of collections

    For practical purposes of storage and geographical relationships, the ethnology collection has been categorised into ten collections, registered and databased as one.

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  • Ownership, strategies and directions

    Increasingly for Ethnology collections, legal "ownership" less important than the recognised moral and emotional "cultural" ownership exercised by relevant ethnic communities.

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