Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Remnant of the Past? An Investigation into the Past, Present and Future Role of Archaeology in New Zealand Museums

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posted on 2021-11-15, 16:02 authored by Shirley, Brenden

Museum archaeology is a subject that has received little attention from local academics and museum professionals. This is despite the fact that it continues to be perceived as a foreign subject that most New Zealanders find difficult to relate to. This dissertation takes an exploratory approach in understanding what has to be considered in future efforts to connect museums and their wider communities with archaeology. Rather than reiterating what the literature has previously confirmed, this research examines the perspective of archaeological interpreters, namely museum and heritage professionals. This provides an avenue for examining how archaeological content is perceived by museums, how this can be conveyed to the public and its potential benefits and limitations.  This research was developed around a qualitative methodology that collated data from interviews with practitioners from a range of backgrounds: archaeologists, museum curators, heritage site mangers and Maori studies. An examination of some of the educational programs and resources currently provided by New Zealand museums and heritage sites was undertaken to recognise opportunities already established. A critical observation of exhibition practice provided additional insight into the physical context of archaeological interpretation and display methods.  Key findings from this research found that many of the issues and opportunities are interrelated and not always exclusive to archaeology. Museums are continuing to move away from specialised curation and instead, favouring the development of multidisciplinary, thematic narratives. As a result, they now rely on the support of outside institutions and consultants to provide this perspective. The dissertation concludes by arguing for a multidisciplinary framework where subjects like archaeology recognise the museum’s potential as a hub for providing relatable experiences across the various disciplinary perspectives available and as an opportunity to promote and the wider exploration of cultural landscapes in their region. This research makes a contribution to the academic analysis of museum and archaeology in New Zealand by encouraging a more inclusive dialogue around the role museums can play in the future of public archaeology. Engagement within the wider heritage and indigenous communities is required to establish a greater level of cultural agency and awareness for these issues and allows for further involvement in site management and cultural interpretations This can ultimately produce a more personal connection and understanding of archaeology in general.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Museum and Heritage Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Museum and Heritage Studies

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970121 Expanding Knowledge in History and Archaeology

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies


McCarthy, Conal