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Education On Dealing With Human Remains

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Education On Dealing With Human Remains

Excavation work underway to allow for the reinterment of koiwi tangata/human remains at the Wairau Bar site in Marlborough underlines the need for wider public knowledge about how to deal with discovering ancestral bones, says the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT).

Local iwi Rangitane and archaeologists from Otago University are part-way through a three-week excavation that will lead to the reinterment on site of koiwi tangata excavated from Wairau Bar between 1938 and 1959.

Wairau Bar is one of New Zealand's earliest settled areas, with moa eggshell from the site dated to being more than 700 years old.

NZHPT senior archaeologist Dr Rick McGovern-Wilson said the reinterment underlined the importance of cultural awareness in dealing with koiwi tangata. Protecting Maori heritage sites was an issue strongly followed by NZHPT, particularly given the expansion of coastal developments and lifestyle blocks into significant historic areas.

NZHPT is close to completing a guideline document to assist people who may be involved in the discovery, excavation, exhumation, storage, reinterment or repatriation of koiwi tangata.

"Public submissions recently closed on the draft document which will help ensure the final guideline will be robust and useful," Dr McGovern-Wilson said.

"With increasing levels of redevelopment taking place it's extremely timely people are aware of their responsibilities when it comes to dealing with koiwi tangata.

"And for any developers we strongly recommend early precautionary assessment work is undertaken - finding out about the local history of the site and what, potentially, could lie beneath."

Te Kenehi Teira, NZHPT Kaihautu, said it was important koiwi tangata were not disturbed if found. Any person who finds what they suspect to be human remains is required by law to contact the NZHPT - who can provide advice and guidance - and local police.

"If you find bone material that you suspect may be human it's very important that contact is made with an NZHPT archaeologist or Pouarahi/Maori Heritage Adviser," Mr Teira said.

"If the find is on public land you may also want to contact your local territorial authority."

Mr Teira said the unearthing of koiwi tangata was often the result of natural environment processes such as coastal erosion. If the remains are deemed to be pre-1900 and likely to be tangata whenua, NZHPT will liaise with the appropriate manawhenua group. They may also be associated with archaeological deposits which require an archaeologist to inspect them.

"We're here to help by providing support and advice to the wider community on tangata whenua issues. It's part of our core message of identifying, protecting and promoting heritage," Mr Teira said.

The Wairau Bar project is a partnership between Te Runanga a Rangitane o Wairau, Canterbury Museum, the Department of Conservation and Otago University. NZHPT is supporting a daily blog on the dig that can be found at

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