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New Zealand Archaeology Blog

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Quotes for Archaeologists

"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it" Oscar Wilde. 1891. The Critic as Artist.

"A thing belongs to the one who remembers it most obsessively" Kanan Makiya. 2001. The Rock: A Tale of Seventh-Century Jerusalem.

"About thirty years ago there was much talk that geologists ought only to observe and not theorise; and I remember some one saying that at this rate a man might well go into a gravel-pit and count the pebbles and describe their colours. How odd it is that anyone should not see that all observation must be for or against some view if it is to be of service." Charles Darwin 1861.

"Problems can not be solved at the same level of consciousness that created them." Albert Einstein

"Archaeologists ought to be grateful to worms, as they protect and preserve for an indefinitely long period every object, not liable to decay, which is dropped on the surface of the land, by burying it beneath their casting." Charles Darwin 1881

"The hardest thing about being a communist is trying to predict the past." Milovan Djilas (1911-1995), Yugoslav author-politician. Djilas was warning apparatchiks rather than Marxist archaeologists - but still ....

"You never know how the past is going to turn out." Jude Quinn in I'm Not There, 2007

"Astronomers have a great advantage over archaeologists: they can see the past." Loeb and Pritchard, New Scentist 27 Oct 2012

"The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

"... everything happens in its own time" Bob Dylan, BBC interview

"Time is not a thing that passes ... it's a sea on which you float." Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

"I have considered the days of old, the years of ancient times." (Psalm 77:5 (King James Version)

"The more one can see the past the more one can see the future." David Hockney Secret Knowledge 2006:197.

"In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured." Victor Frankl 1946 Man's Search for Meaning.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." George Orwell 1984


Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Notre Dame
A beautiful cathedral - sadly gravely damaged. Its glory was always its superb location and exterior. These survive and from photographs the vaulting is somewhat damaged but let's hope not too severely. The spire should be an easy rebuild.

There must have been a lot of small timbers in the roof for it to have burned like that - large timbers char and burn very slowly. The reconstruction can use timber, but it must be wisely and have protections that modern buildings have.

For visitors to France do not be deterred. Sainte Chapelle and Saint Denis are still in Paris, even Sacré-Cœur if you like the style  or at least the view if you don't. The rest of France is well endowed with cathedrals. Avoiding the tourist crush at Notre Dame is perhaps a small plus.

Friday, 29 September 2017

U3A Papers:

"U3A Papers
I am a member of the Howick University of the Third Age and contribute to the Art and Science Groups.

Below are some of the powerpoint presentations I have used.


Four British war artists part 1

Four British war artists part 2

Italian Maiolica

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Margaret Preston and Margaret Olley - two Australian artists


Earth history from the bottom of the ocean

Genetics into history

Lidar and archaeology

Radiometric Dating

Spillways for dams"

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Some years ago I bought a copy of Peter Buck's printed Cawthron Lecture - The Coming of the Maori.Tucked inside it was a printed postcard of two Maori men.

It was not the usual subject for a Maori postcard - usually they were tourist scenes. The two intrigued me - the sitting one clearly of higher status and unusually well dressed for the period. It seemed an unlikely subject.

The card was tucked onto a bookcase shelf and has sat their occasionally attracting my attention ever since, until I recently watched a Shipwreck TV programme about the 1863 wreck of the Delaware near Nelson. It was the well known story of the rescue of most of the crew by the "New Zealand Grace Darling" Huria Matenga.

You can read her story and more on the wreck here:

The programme showed the photos of two brothers Hemi Matenga - Huria's husband and Hemi's brother Ropata Matenga - both of whom took part in the rescue with Huria. Clearly they were the same men as in my postcard - mystery revealed! Hemi is on the left. The reason for the postcard being produced was then apparent. The postcard craze was well after 1863 so this must have been backward looking when it was produced. There is no wording on either face of the postcard or the reverse other than the printed words postcard, so perhaps they were still well known in the district.

Huria and her husband lived well on a substantial land holding so the dress of Hemi is explained too.

1863 was the height of the New Zealand wars and many Taranaki settlers had relocated to Nelson temporarily. The rescue was a contrast to the situation elsewhere and this did not pass unnoticed at the time.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Maruiwi Press, Historical, heritage and archaeological publications:
I have recently converted two of my e-publications from pay-for to free. See the links to the web page version here.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Canterbury Earthquake Royal Commission

A short guide to some documents of heritage interest.

Volume 4 which deals with unreinforced masonry buildings their strengthening and performance is of the greatest heritage interest.

Volume 4: Earthquake-prone buildings 

The focus on the CTV building has meant CCC has got of with relatively little attention to its performance with dealing with sub-standard buildings prior to the earthquakes. It is described as passive. Undoubtedly this passivity contributed to the death toll. 
Much of the rest oft the commission's report is highly technical - and  only specialist structural engineers will cope with all the detail. Still a skim through these will give some general points. 

With the CTV building the commission coped admirably with a very difficult task:
  • Interpreting the design against the standards and bylaws of the day which were not well developed or consistent
  • Applying judgement as to what prudent engineering practice would have been at the time
  • Witnesses who were sometimes less than forthcoming on their roles.
The design inadequacies and the missed opportunities to correct them are a very unhappy chapter in New Zealand's professional engineering.

Friday, 19 October 2012

"Die Erinnerung ist das einzige Paradies , aus welchem wir nicht getrieben werden können." 
- The memory is the only paradise from which we cannot be driven.
Johann Paul Richter otherwise known as Jean Paul, 1812

Do archaeologists create paradises of the past? The authors of Genesis did. While we might not write stories that so explicitly include a descent from a state of grace, we surely do place emphasis the extraordinary and the great from the past, to the exclusion of the mundane.The impression can be left that the past is a land of heroes, greater than the present day. Yet archaeology should be the stuff of the ordinary - for that is a large part of what we find. We should be able to tell an unvarnished version of the past. What are the enemies of that objective? - why ourselves in large part - we want to see what we do as important and illustrative and tend to present it in that light.

Who else? - why ourselves again - if we are the descendants of those who's history we presenting. We want to see ourselves as the descendants of noble people of achievement. Colonised indigenous people can suffer particularly from this. They have good historical reasons to want to represent their ancestors well, better than the way they were stigmatised, or at best stereotyped by colonists. Non-indigenous archaeologists are often more aware of the colonial history than their contemporaries and sympathise with this - but have we not all endured some new-age version of the past presented from an indigenous point of view in silence - and suffering - through the distortions!

An Australian archaeologist once said that the only people over whom aboriginal people had any power were archaeologists, and if offered the opportunity they would inevitably use it. Of course they should have domain over their cultural heritage. But should that be to the extent that it must be distorted in presentation?
So what are the counters to this? Intellectual rigor and debate are a good start. Another is simply the people themselves. Their physical remains tell the stories of their lives - brutish and short as they sometime are. We need not pursue those placed to rest by their contemporaries - there are chance discoveries or disturbances often enough in our development obsessed world . But we should make a respectful study of these remains before their re-internment.  We can find their life histories not otherwise accessible to us - how long they lived, how many children women had, what stresses they placed on their bodies, their health, injuries and illnesses. Their DNA if it survives, can tell vast amounts more Too often a study is not happening and it is because of the exertion of power referred to above. 

It is time for debate on that. Archaeologists should not forego this important window on the past and need to assert its value - and its particular value is that it is a strong dose of reality.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Heritage Buildings and Earthquakes: Christchurch and Elsewhere

Christchurch heritage suffered a devastating loss in its earthquakes. The Council there (like others) had been remiss in not requiring earthquake strengthening of masonry buildings on a more rapid timetable, but even if it had the result may have still not been happy. The size of the earthquake was such that even when a strengthened building may have stood and saved lives, it was still likely to suffer irreparable damage.

What can be done with damaged buildings? Simply it is not sensible to repair or rebuild them as masonry buildings. That is recreating the danger. One Listener columnist seemed to think this was what heritage advocates wanted and dismissed us all as mad.

In some cases if the facades are reasonably intact it is possible to build a modern frame building behind and then attach the facade to it. Where this is not possible then a replica is the only option – using some of the original fabric where this is recoverable. A replica will have a new moment resisting frame inside it.
Reading the reports from Christchurch it is hard to avoid the view that Christchurch heritage is suffering death by a thousand cuts. The Historic Places Trust has been advocating for particular buildings and for precincts but it does not seem to be winning many battles. CERA seems to be dominated by engineering considerations – does it employ a single heritage expert? Sadly the responsible Minister seems to place no value on heritage.

Christchurch formerly had large areas of low rise Victorian and Edwardian buildings – some of which were in poor condition and in low return uses. Many have gone and it is not realistic to expect that they could return. There is not the economic need for them. Christchurch does have an economic need to recover some of its heritage – it is the character of the city – it is one reason why people live there and visit. What have others done? Perhaps the centres of some German cities are an example. Over the decades after the bombing devastation they recovered selected parts of their cities. Visit them today and some are utterly convincing, some less so, lacking the patina of age. Even then one looks and thinks would one prefer the alternative of ‘all new’? The answer is no.

The officials responsible for Christchurch need a determination not currently apparent to recover heritage. It cannot be left to just safety considerations or to the whims and finances of individual owners. It would seem for instance the Council is wringing its hands over the Cathedral rather than leading.
There should be a list of buildings that are “must saves”. There should be a precinct or two that are “must recovers”. Christchurch deserves as much.

Elsewhere: The Royal Commission on the Christchurch earthquake has been hearing of the number of masonry buildings elsewhere in New Zealand that are at risk. One advocate there said the solution to them all was to pull them down. Other commentators seem to think what is proposed is the same standard for all of New Zealand when the risk is lesser in some parts. Not so, the design standard is differentiated to different places. The requirement is to strengthen to a proportion of the local standard. Local authorities are required to nominate a standard – not less than 33% and to give a deadline. Is this a case for subsidiarily – what do the local authories add in this case – other than be a target for owner lobbying? Already we see Auckland Council deciding on secrecy for its at risk building lists. Surely there is a case for an overall national standard and a timetable.

Where Councils can be involved is just as it is in Canterbury – deciding locally what is a ‘must save’ building and what is a must protect precinct, where the cost of strengthening is one that must be borne.

With some engineering the response is targeted to not only the risk but the consequence. Some of this is done already; schools and emergency facilities are seen as higher consequence and have a higher standard. Surely there is a case for this to extend to low occupancy high heritage value buildings – where the intrusiveness of strengthening to a high standard would greatly lessen their heritage value. Not fail to strengthen them – just accept more risk.


The principal organisation for archaeologists in New Zealand is the New Zealand Archaeological Association.

My interests include: C14 dating, numerical taxonomy, site protection in development projects, web communication and museums.  

Garry Law
About me

This page is mainly about New Zealand archaeology.  The Blog here is some personal observations which I might make from time to time.

Archaeology in New Zealand is practiced in respect of the Maori (Polynesian) occupation of New Zealand (including the Kermadec Islands to the north and Chatham Islands in the east), starting perhaps 800 years ago, but also in respect of historic sites left by more recent visitors and immigrants, European and Chinese, since 1800 AD, looking at settlements and sealing, whaling and mining industries.

New Zealand archaeology relates particularly to New Zealand of course, but archaeologists based here also work in Polynesia, the rest of Oceania, particularly on Polynesian origins and also in South East Asia - particularly Thailand. There is also some research on historic sites in Antarctica. There are close professional relationships with Australian archaeologists and a quite a few there have come from here, but little research is conducted across the Tasman Sea in either direction.

Auckland, August 1908: A Stop on the Great White Fleet World Cruise 
By: Garry Law
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