Story: Anthropology and archaeology

Page 5. Expanding worlds, 1960s to 2000s

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From the 1960s anthropologists and archaeologists became more cross-disciplinary. They embraced new technologies, new fields of investigation and a range of scientific techniques to expand methods of gaining knowledge. They also had to adjust to changing relationships with Māori and other indigenous peoples.

Home and away: 1960s–1990s

In the 1960s and 1970s New Zealand anthropologists were carrying out research around the Pacific, including Papua New Guinea, Tokelau, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. Anthropological work on Māori society continued, including Joan Metge’s studies of Māori urban migration and Anne Salmond’s work with East Coast elders Eruera and Amiria Stirling, examining the processes of hui. Many young Māori studying anthropology at this time went on to become community leaders, including Pita Sharples, Ranginui Walker, Hirini Moko Mead and Pat Hōhepa.

In the 1980s Māori academics and students pushed for tino rangatiratanga (self-governance). At both the University of Auckland and Victoria University of Wellington, Māori Studies became a stand-alone department. Some Māori activists declared that non-Māori should stop researching Māori subjects, arguing that only Māori researchers understood the issues involved. Many Pākehā anthropologists withdrew from Māori research, instead looking at other communities, including Pacific Islanders, Indians and Pākehā. By the 1990s Māori opposition to Pākehā anthropologists had somewhat subsided, with some Māori groups calling in anthropologists to assist with Waitangi Tribunal claims.

Regional archaeological studies

From 1969 to 1972 Foss and Helen Leach of the University of Otago conducted New Zealand’s first major regional archaeological study, focusing on Palliser Bay and southern Wairarapa. The study looked in detail at the economy and way of life in prehistoric Wairarapa, concentrating on changes in the region’s ecology and climate. Along with archaeological methods, the Leaches used comparative research on food plants and examined historical and traditional records. This work led to further regional studies, including those by Atholl Anderson in the southern South Island and by Doug Sutton in the Chatham Islands. The regional approach also provided the context for concentrated studies such as Geoff Irwin’s excavation of the Kohika village in the Bay of Plenty.

Historical archaeology

In the late 20th century there was increased interest in the archaeology of sites from the more recent era. These include Māori sites such as gunfighter from the 1820s and 1830s, and Chinese gold-mining settlements in the Otago region, early whaling stations on Banks Peninsula and a range of European sites around the country. Archaeology often reveals details of everyday life that are not recorded in historical accounts.

Archaeology and development

In 1975 the Historic Places Act was amended to protect all archaeological sites, so sites could now only be modified or destroyed with the permission of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (which became Heritage New Zealand in 2014). The trust was given the power to require that a development would only receive consent to proceed if an archaeological investigation was carried out first.

New ways of looking at the past

Anthropology and archaeology have adopted many new methods of investigation. Techniques such as aerial photography and ground-penetrating radar have allowed the detection and investigation of archaeological sites without intrusive digging. Lisa Matisoo-Smith’s work on the DNA of kiore (Polynesian rats) and chicken bones has helped trace the migrations of Polynesian ancestors through the Pacific. Pollen analysis by palaeoecologists (who study fossilised plants and animals to understand past ecologies) has helped archaeologists determine when the major periods of forest clearance first began. Examination of chemical isotopes in prehistoric skeletons has given new clues to the diet and mobility of New Zealand’s earliest people.

Novel approaches to an old debate

In 1996 Richard Holdaway’s work on rat bones suggested rats had arrived in New Zealand as long as 2,000 years ago, probably left by humans who did not settle. More recent studies, including re-examination of radiocarbon dating and examination of rat-gnawed seeds, indicated rats and humans arrived only around 1200–1350 AD. Work on pollen analysis and bird extinctions supports this recent date of human arrival, but the debate continues.

Anthropologists and archaeologists in the early 2000s

While anthropology graduates went into a wide range of professions, anthropology itself remained largely a university-based discipline in the early 2000s. Archaeologists were also based in universities and museums, but also worked for Heritage New Zealand and the Department of Conservation. A number of private firms employ archaeologists to carry out consulting and research work for developers. In the 2010s Heritage New Zealand estimated that 95% of archaeological digs in New Zealand were the result of consent procedures for developments.

How to cite this page:

Peter Clayworth, 'Anthropology and archaeology - Expanding worlds, 1960s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/anthropology-and-archaeology/page-5 (accessed 27 April 2017)

Story by Peter Clayworth, published 22 Oct 2014