Heritage New Zealand has issued a summer holiday reminder for anyone who unearths a potential archaeological artefact that the law does not allow finders to be keepers.

Last summer had seen heightened media interest in fossicking and the use of metal detectors as holiday-makers converged on beaches and walking tracks, senior archaeologist Pam Bain said, and it was important to know that anything found should be left where it was, covered up if possible, and reported to Heritage New Zealand.

From an archaeological perspective an artefact lost its context once removed from its site, and there is the chance that any other artefacts nearby could also be damaged.

"There will be times when archaeological artefacts are found as a result of erosion and other natural weather factors, and people genuinely don't know what they should do," Ms Bain said.


"However, searching for artefacts is becoming a more organised activity for some, and it appears that private and public property is being targeted. This includes coastal areas such as beaches, parks, farms and building sites.

"It's really important that those involved in this activity are reminded that it is unlawful to damage or alter an archaeological site."

The Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014 defined an archaeological site as a place associated with pre-1900 activity where there may be evidence relating to New Zealand's history.

"Archaeological sites essentially cover from the mountains to the sea and everything in between," she added. "If people come across something they think is interesting, it's crucial that they leave it where it is, and especially do not go digging it up. Leave it where it is, cover it if possible, take a photo of the site's location if you can and report it.

"Any discovery can enhance our understanding of our history, and that's why it's crucial that any removing and identifying of our heritage is carried out by experts so that significant information isn't lost or destroyed."

While Heritage New Zealand preferred to inform through education, there had been prosecutions.

"We are the regulators of archaeology in New Zealand, and sometimes court action is necessary," she said.