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Archaeological Digging Best Left To Experts

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Archaeological Digging Best Left To Experts

24 April 2009 - The discovery of a bronze nail from an historic shipwreck north of Gisborne has come with a reminder from the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) about the process that should be followed if the public come across potential archaeological artefacts.

The Dominion Post reported today the discovery by an Anaura Bay man of three pieces of wood with five bronze nails attached after digging up the artefacts at low tide. One nail sent to the Maritime Archaeological Association for analysis is believed to be a cast bronze deck fastener, or spike, similar to those used in the mid-1800s.

NZHPT senior archaeologist Dr Rick McGovern-Wilson said while the man's actions were likely done with the best of intentions and reflected his inquisitive nature, it is important that heritage items found are left where they are and reported to the NZHPT. 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.

Under the Historic Places Act (HPA) 1993 the NZHPT administers the process of authorising archaeological work to take place. The HPA defines an archaeological site as any place in New Zealand that was associated with human activity that occurred before 1900 that can be investigated with archaeological techniques.

"Shipwrecks and underwater archaeological sites are an irreplaceable part of our heritage and, if dated before 1900, are protected by the Historic Places Act. More than 2000 shipwrecks are known to have occurred in New Zealand waters and over 1200 of these were before 1900.

"The case in Anaura Bay reflects that it's often a case of people being out and about and coming across something interesting. And that's great - but although he probably felt what he was doing was okay, it's important to leave discoveries where they are and contact us immediately.

"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. It's a message we are actively trying to get out to the public and hopefully this find will help highlight that.

"While we have no plans to prosecute anyone in relation to this particular find, I would point out that it is unlawful for any person to destroy, damage or modify an archaeological site without the prior authority of NZHPT."

Failure to comply can lead to prosecution, with conviction carrying fines as high as $100,000 for destruction of a site and up to $40,000 for damage or modification.

"There are instances such as in Christchurch last month where bottle diggers damaged an archaeological site in what appeared to be a targeted incident."

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