It’s New Zealand Archaeology Week – a time to celebrate New Zealand’s archaeologists and the important work that they do.
We got in contact with Andrew Blanshard, one of DOC’s own archaeologists, to learn more. Andrew is based in Whangarei, providing heritage advice for the Northland region. Here’s what he had to say…
Q. Tell us about your job – what do you do? Most of us have heard of archaeologists, but don’t know much about them. Is it all digging?
I am the Kaitohu Matua Tonga Tuku Iho (Senior Heritage Advisor) for Te Tai Tokerau (Northland). My role is to provide advice and support to the region on how to best care for the heritage sites that are on public conservation land, as well as helping to tell the stories of these sites. Most sites that we are charged with caring for are archaeological (i.e. not buildings or ruins).
My background is as a practical field archaeologist, who is probably happiest either excavating or undertaken large-scale survey work. In recent years I have become a passionate advocate for making sure that we can tell the stories of our heritage. Unfortunately, these days most archaeologists spend more time writing reports than digging. However, this is also because – with the range of scientific methods we can use – the days of just digging holes is over. These days it is about doing as little disturbance as possible whilst trying to extract as much information as we can. Archaeological samples are also being used in a lot of cross-disciplinary studies, looking at climate change, human health etc.
Q. How did you come to work for DOC?
In the early 2000s, I was in the UK working towards a PhD (my topic was the awesome rock art down on Te Wai Pounamu/the South Island). It turned out that the UK was too far away to do this from, so in 2006 I came home to a Historic Ranger role (yes, we used to have dedicated Historic Rangers!) in the then Bay of Islands Area Office. This was my dream job at the time, living and working the beautiful Bay of Islands caring for some of our most precious heritage sites.
Q. What part of your job do you enjoy most?
Working with our hapū/iwi groups in the north to see how Pākehā archaeological science and the mātauranga that has been passed down can work together to better tell the stories of the sites we look after. Most recently this has been working with Ngāti Kuta and Patukeha (Ngāpuhi) on a site at Mangahawea Bay.
Q. What’s the hardest thing about working in archaeology?
The lack of funding for public archaeology. 95% of the archaeological work carried out in Aotearoa is done as part of infrastructure development work, i.e. prior to the destruction of sites. Almost no work is carried out with the aim of increasing our understanding of the people who lived here before us.
This is very frustrating, as when we do carry out small-scale excavation work that is open to the public, we get massive amounts of interest. Any public open day that we run, even where people have to travel to quite isolated locations, never fails to get large numbers of visitors and interest from media.
Kiwis are interested in their heritage and what archaeology can add to their understanding of it. But due to a lack of funding and opportunities, very few have had the chance to witness or take part in an archaeological dig.
Q. This is probably like asking a parent to choose their favourite child, but what’s your favourite heritage/archaeological site?
Oh, that’s really hard – there is not one, but I will give you a few of my highlights and why.
Silchester (just outside Reading, UK) – my first archaeological excavation. We all have a first love, right?
Moturua Island (Pēwhairangi , Bay of Islands) – I am biased, but in my opinion this island has it all. All phases of our history can be seen in one place: one of the earliest archaeological sites in the country (Mangahawea Bay), amazing pā sites, gardens and kāinga. Cook and Banks landed and described the island. In 1772, Marion De Fresne set up a shore camp on the island; his crew sacked Paeroa Pā (the first time muskets had been used in this way) and killed 250+ defenders. Later on, the island was also used as a base for whaling, island farming, kauri gum digging, a series of WW2 coastal fortifications and much more. And you can see all of this on a two hour loop track.
The Tarvagatai valley (Northern Mongolia) – an amazing landscape with intact and overlaying archaeological deposits that go back to 9000 years before present.
Chichen Itza – because everyone should have a favourite pyramid!
Q. If you could give one message to the New Zealand public about archaeology, what would it be?
Get out and explore your own backyard – there is not a single place in this country that does not have fascinating stories and sites. Talk to the locals, your elders, discover your own heritage!
Get involved – contractors, universities and on occasion Heritage NZ and DOC do carry out practical heritage work. If you get a chance, grab it.