The Archaeology Department looks after New Zealand Maori 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.
About our collections
New Zealand and the Pacific
Maori 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
There is a collection of items from ancient Egypt ranging from the 5500–3100 BC 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.
Meanwhile there are a few items from the ancient world on show in the Mackelvie Collection on the first floor Logan Campbell Gallery, and there are three casts of Greek statues –‘The Dying Gaul’, Laocoon’ and ‘Discobolus’. And the Museum building itself is a tribute to ancient Greece.
Conservation Project - Egyptian Mummy
When the Civilisation Gallery is opened again a highlight will be the Museum’s Egyptian mummy and painted wooden coffin. In 1998 the mummy was removed from public view by Museum staff concerned for her fragile condition to await funds to embark on a comprehensive conservation project which is now complete. The mummy is on display in a temporary position in the north-eastern stairwell. Read more about the whole conservation process.