Human Skeletal Remains and Bioarchaeology in New Zealand

  • Hallie R. BuckleyEmail author
  • Peter Petchey


The genesis of bioarchaeology in New Zealand as a discipline is entwined with the fates of the indigenous people of the land, the Māori, and influenced by the relatively short period of non-Māori colonisation. The story of how human skeletal remains (Kōiwi tangata), were treated and used in research by colonial curio hunters and adventurers mirror the treatment and eventual re-empowerment of Māori culture. Human skeletal remains hold a special place in all New Zealanders’ cultural identity but for Māori, are the physical embodiment of their genealogy representing a direct link to the land on which their ancestors lived and died. This chapter briefly reviews the history of biological anthropology as a discipline in New Zealand, outlining history and the legislative and social context of this research. Two case studies of recent bioarchaeology research are presented highlighting the current state of play in the discipline at one institution.


New Zealand bioarchaeology Kōiwi tangata Māori Historic cemetery Curio hunters Indigenous people 



The Wairau Bar Kōiwi Research Project was a joint initiative between the University of Otago, the Canterbury Museum and Rangitāne iwi. The kaitiakitanga of Rangitāne over the tupuna (ancestors) discussed in this document is acknowledged by the University of Otago and members of this research group. We also wish to take this opportunity to thank Rangitāne for their support of the research.

Funding for the research project has been provided as a grant-in-aid by the School of Medical Sciences, University of Otago, and a major grant from the Mason Foundation to Canterbury Museum.

The St John’s cemetery research project was a joint initiative between the University of Otago and TP60 historical group of Tokomairiro, Milton. We acknowledge Te Runanga o Otakou as mana whenua of the land on which the burial ground stands. We would like to thank the Anglican diocese of Dunedin for their continued support, especially retired Vicar Vivienne Galletly, and the wider Milton community for providing their enthusiasm and time to the excavation. Special thanks to Mrs. Kath Croy for acting as ‘camp mum’ during the excavation keeping us fed and watered and to Mr. Wayne Stephenson for donating digger time. Funding for this project has been through a strategic fund grant-in-aid from the Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, a University of Otago Research Grant and Strategic fund grant from the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Otago.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnatomyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Anthropology and ArchaeologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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