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Taonga Tūturu

Taonga tūturu is one of 9 categories of protected New Zealand objects defined in the Protected Objects Act. The Act regulates the export of all categories of protected New Zealand objects but taonga tūturu is the only category of objects to have separate regulations regarding ownership and trade.

Taonga tūturu means an object that;

  • (a) relates to Māori culture, history, or society; and
  • (b) was, or appears to have been;
    • (i) manufactured or modified in New Zealand by Māori; or
    • (ii) brought into New Zealand by Māori; or
    • (iii) used by Māori; and
  • (c) is more than 50 years old

Under the Act, all taonga tūturu found are in the first instance (prima facie) Crown owned to allow claims for ownership to be heard by the Māori Land Court.

The Act also regulates the sale and purchase of taonga tūturu.

The Ministry has developed Guidelines for Taonga Tūturu  (pdf, 300K) which explain how sections 11 to 16 of the Protected Objects Act 1975 are applied.  The guidelines are not intended to replace legal advice.

Finding taonga tūturu

Under section 11 of the Act, newly found taonga tūturu are in the first instance Crown owned until a determination on ownership is made by the Māori Land Court. In the interim, the Ministry is legally responsible for the recording, custody of the taonga tuturu, facilitating claims for ownership and any conservation treatment required.

The finder can notify the Ministry directly or through a public museum with the expertise to identify and record a taonga tūturu. Suitably qualified archaeologists, Department of Conservation or New Zealand Historic Places Trust staff can also complete the forms on behalf of their clients or their organisation.

Notifying the Ministry of a Find

When someone finds a taonga tūturu, they should take it to the nearest public museum who will notify the Ministry of the find, or they can contact us directly. In the case of a taonga tūturu found on Department of Conservation land, the finder should let the Ranger or DoC office staff know.

The standard process is as follows:

  1. Taonga tūturu found.
  2. Taonga tūturu taken by finder to nearest public museum with the expertise, New Zealand Historic Places Trust or Department of Conservation Office to complete a notification form within 28 days.
  3. Notification forms completed by the museum and sent to the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. The public museum advises us of any conservation the taonga tūturu may need. Any expenditure for conservation must be pre-approved by the Ministry.
  4. The Ministry assigns the taonga tūturu a registration number. The notifying museum is then asked to label the taonga tūturu with the number.
  5. The Ministry notifies tangata whenua and other interested parties from the area where the taonga tūturu was found about the process for claiming ownership or custody.
  6. The Ministry publishes a public notice in the local newspaper and on its website calling for claims of ownership to be lodged with the Ministry within 60 working days.

Applying for ownership

Any person who may have the right, title, estate or interest in any such taonga tūturu may apply for ownership. Claims of ownership should be lodged with the Ministry within 60 working days of the  Public Notice being published.

If one claim for ownership is lodged, the chief executive of the Ministry must, if satisfied that the claim is valid, apply to the Registrar of the Māori Land Court for an order that confirms the owner or owners of the taonga tūturu.

If 2 or more competing claims are lodged, the Chief Executive of the Ministry must try to resolve the competing claims.  When satisfied that the competing claims have been resolved and that the resolution is valid,  we will apply to the Registrar of the Māori Land Court for an order that confirms the owner or owners of the taonga tūturu.

If 2 or more competing claims are lodged, and cannot be resolved, the Chief Executive may, if requested by a claimant, facilitate the applications of any or all of the claimants to the Māori Land Court.

Claimants always have the right to independently seek a determination from the Māori Land Court on ownership of taonga tūturu.

Taonga Tūturu in Crown ownership

If you wish to apply for ownership of any taonga tūturu in Crown ownership or would like information on taonga found since 1975, please contact us at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Māori Land Court

Section 12 of the Protected Objects Act provides for the Māori Land Court’s jurisdiction over taonga tūturu and it has the power to:

  • transfer ownership of newly found taonga tūturu from the Crown to a private individual or group;
  • resolve any claims for the ownership of Crown owned taonga tūturu;
  • determine who can have custody of taonga tūturu recovered from the grave of any known person(s);
  • prohibit the damage or destruction of taonga tūturu; and
  • issue an order prohibiting the sale of taonga tūturu.

The Māori Land Court can vest the ownership of taonga tūturu in an individual or group such as a runanga or hapu. For advice on Māori Land Court practices and procedures, please visit its website.

Public Notices

The Ministry publishes public notices calling for claims of ownership of taonga tūturu.  Claims should be lodged with the Ministry within 60 working days of the public notice being published.

Commercial Sales and Trade

A privately owned taonga tūturu can be sold only to a registered collector, a public museum, or to a licenced dealer or auctioneer. A taonga tūturu cannot be released to any person until the seller has proof that the purchaser is one of these three.

Licenced dealers and auctioneers may trade only in taonga tūturu which are in private ownership and have been registered. They may not trade in Crown owned taonga tūturu. A certificate of examination (Y registration) from an authorised museum must be obtained for the taonga tūturu before it is sold, if one has not already been issued. It is the responsibility of the dealer or auctioneer to obtain the certificate from the nearest authorised museum.

The authorised museum has 28 days upon receipt of the taonga tūturu to issue the certificate of examination and the licenced dealer or auctioneer may not offer the taonga tūturu for sale, other than to a public museum, before the certificate has been issued.  They must keep a register of all sales, including who the object has been sold to and send the register to Te Papa within 28 days of the sale.  Licensed dealers can sell only to public museums, other licensed dealers and auctioneers and registered collectors.

Licence to trade in Taonga Tūturu

Dealers and auctioneers licenced under the Auctioneers Act 1928 or the Secondhand Dealers and Pawnbrokers Act 2004 can trade in privately owned taonga tūturu if they have been authorised to do so by the Ministry. All licences issued by the Ministry are valid until 31 January and have to be renewed yearly.

See the Application form to trade in Taonga Tūturu

Private Sales

Private sales (sales not through an auction house or dealer) of taonga tūturu are allowed under section 14 of the Act. Taonga tūturu do not have to have been issued a ‘Y’ number to be sold privately, but the buyer may approach an authorised museum to have a certificate of examination completed if they wish. When a registered collector purchases or sells taonga tūturu, they are required to notify the Ministry within 14 days of a change in their collection.

The current list of Licensed Dealers and Auctioneers is available for reference here.

Authorised Museums

Under section 16 of the Act, authorised museums are required to issue certificates of examination to licenced dealers and auctioneers prior to the sale of taonga tūturu. Certificates can also be issued to private individuals if requested. The authorised museum holds a copy of the certificate and sends another copy to Te Papa for the central register.

The Authorised Museums are: Auckland Museum, Te Papa, Canterbury Museum and Otago Museum.

Registered Collectors

If you wish to purchase taonga tūturu or become a Ministry appointed custodian of Crown owned taonga tūturu, you must become a Registered Collector of Taonga Tūturu.

Individuals and groups can apply to the Ministry to become a Registered Collector of Taonga Tūturu. To become a registered collector, the person or group must:

  1. ordinarily reside in New Zealand; and
  2. not have been convicted of an offence against the Protected Objects Act (previously the Antiquities Act) or the Historic Places Act.

See the  relevant application form here.

Registered collectors can purchase only privately owned taonga tūturu and must notify the Ministry of any changes to the collection and the location of their collection within 14 days. The Act also requires registered collectors to make their collections available for examination by the Ministry or any person authorised by the Chief Executive.

Conditions of registration as a collector can be found in section 14 of the Protected Objects Act.

Archaeological Sites

Known and suspected archaeological sites are protected by the Historic Places Trust Act and must not be deliberately disturbed in order to find taonga tūturu.  If taonga tūturu are partially exposed and not in any immediate danger, the New Zealand Historic Places Trust should be contacted right away and the taonga tūturu left in the site. 

If the taonga tūturu is in danger of being lost or destroyed, carefully remove it from the site and notify the Ministry of the find and the Historic Places Trust of the potential damage to the archaeological site.

If a taonga tūturu is found during the course of an archaeological authority, the Ministry is to be notified of the find within 28 days after the completion of the field work.

Investigation or disturbance of archaeological sites may be carried out only under an authority granted by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.



Updated on 22nd June 2017