One Tree Hill
Photo by Robert Gully

Protecting archaeological heritage

New Zealand has over 70,000 recorded archaeological sites. Many potential tracks, trails, and outdoor access opportunities could pass by or over an archaeological site.  So you must check first before you start building. 

Archaeological sites are an irreplaceable part of our heritage. Our history is rich, varied, unique, and belongs to all New Zealanders. What we discover from archaeological sites helps us better understand our past and learn from it.

If you wish to do any mahi that may affect an archaeological site, contact Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. The sites can be on land, water, or coastal marine areas.

The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 defines an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand. This could include buildings, structures or shipwrecks. A place associated with post-1900 human activity may also be declared by gazettal as an archaeological site under the Act.

New Zealand has been settled since the 14th century, so many layers of hītori reflect successive patterns of land use and occupation over hundreds of years.

Archaeological sites here include Māori pa and associated middens (historic rubbish dumps), cultivation areas and gardens, rock art sites and urupā (burial sites). Consulting with iwi is a very important part of the archaeological process.

The Archaeological Authority process

The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act makes it unlawful for any person to modify or destroy, or cause to be modified or destroyed, the whole or any part of an archaeological site without the prior authority of Heritage New Zealand.

If you wish to do any mahi that may affect an archaeological site, you must obtain an Archaeological Authority from Heritage New Zealand before you begin.

(Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ brochure Aug 2014)

This is the case regardless of whether the land on which the site is located is designated, the activity is permitted under the District or Regional Plan or a resource or building consent has been granted.

This work could include, amongst other things:

  • Residential developments, building walkways and cycleways, earthworks for forestry tracks, planting and harvesting, fencing, landscaping and trenching
  • Road construction
  • Quarrying
  • Building demolition
  • Alteration of a shipwreck

You will need permission to continue if you uncover a previously unknown site during earthworks. You must stop any work that could affect the site and contact Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ for advice on how to proceed.

The Act has strong provisions for non-compliance. Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ wants to see the best outcome for archaeological sites and help ensure your project runs smoothly.

By complying with your Archaeological Authority conditions, you help add to the country’s mātauranga and help us preserve our heritage for the future.

What to do if you find an archaeological object

Archaeological objects can be exposed through natural processes, like coastal erosion or earthworks and development. It is important if people do find something that they leave it where found and cover it up, if possible, before contacting Heritage New Zealand.

When an object is removed, not only may it be an offence, but it undermines our understanding of context and history and could lead to further site damage. If an object has already been removed, it should be passed to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Heritage New Zealand or your local museum for assessing and returning to the rightful owner.

If koiwi (human remains) are found, the police should be contacted immediately. They will contact the local iwi and Heritage New Zealand to ensure all cultural protocols are adhered to by Māori tikanga (custom) before removal and reburial.

More information on protecting and managing archaeological sites

Searching for significant heritage sites and landmarks

You can search the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero (formerly the Register) for information about New Zealand’s significant heritage places, including Ngā Manawhenua o Aotearoa me ōna Kōrero Tūturu/National Historic Landmarks.

The searchable New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero

The Archaeological Reports Digital Library contains a wealth of information — you may be interested in searching by place to see what you can find.

The Archaeological Reports Digital Library

Contacting Pouhere Taonga Heritage NZ

Heritage New Zealand has archaeologists at Antrim House in Wellington and six regional offices, which you can contact for more information.

Antrim House, Wellington

Kerikeri (office for Northland) Northland Area Office

Auckland (office for Auckland, Thames/Coromandel and Hauraki) Northern Regional Office

Tauranga (office for Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Gisborne) Lower Northern Area Office

Wellington (office for Wairarapa, Manawatū, Hawke’s Bay, Tararua, Taranaki, Whanganui, Wellington, Nelson and Marlborough) Central Regional Office

Christchurch (office for Canterbury, South Canterbury, Kaikoura and West Coast) Southern Regional Office

Otago/Southland Area Office (Dunedin (office for Otago, North Otago, Southland)            


Each track-building group is different — you may wish to talk with your Regional Field Advisor, so you get up-to-date advice and knowledge.