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ContactIan Barber_large

Room 2C19
Tel +64 3 479 8758

Research interests

New Zealand Māori and Moriori archaeology; cultural change and contact; archaeological resource management and politics; anthropology of revitalisation and religion; agricultural innovation and introductions in New Zealand and Polynesia.

I specialise in the study of dynamic historical environments, including new uses of the past. I apply innovative and frequently interdisciplinary theory and methods to investigate changing relationships between material and social environments. I work closely and in collaboration with several New Zealand Māori and Chatham Island Moriori communities in my research.


Current projects

Archaeology of agricultural innovation and introductions in New Zealand and Oceania

In this research I investigate the archaeological evidence of Polynesian agronomic innovation and change over time and space. This work incorporates research into the early development of Polynesian crop production systems, and the pre-Hispanic introduction and dispersal of sweet potato in Oceania. Important recent outputs include papers in World Archaeology (2010), Rapa Nui Journal (2012), and Archaeology in Oceania (2013). This research has been extended and supported by two Royal Society Marsden awards on which I am PI and AI respectively. These are concerned with tropical agricultural contributions and adaptations (“Pushed to the limits” UOO1415), and animal-human relationships (UOO1322, P. Wehi PI) in the Polynesian colonization of New Zealand.

First contact in Polynesia

I engage archaeology and historical anthropology to investigate the original settings and outcomes of first contact in Polynesia, including encounters that have become iconic national events, and/or associated with violent events and claims of cannibalism. I have reported the New Zealand phase of this research in national media and public lectures in New Zealand and the USA (Center for Australian and New Zealand Studies, Georgetown University, and The Field Museum, Chicago, October 2011). I have published on this research in Current Anthropology (Barber 2012).

Moriori archaeology

A collaboration with Moriori authority Hokotehi Moriori Trust is framed to research and offer advice on the conservation of living kopi trees carved historically by Chatham Island Moriori, and to investigate the archaeological chronology, meaning and landscapes associated with this tradition. This project has resulted in considerable national media interest and several publications in national and international journals (Barber 2012; Barber & Maxwell 2011; 2012; Barber et al. 2014).

Cultural identity and the material past

I investigate how engagements with historic materials and places support identity formation at national and other community levels, applying a hybrid methodology between archaeology, anthropology and heritage studies. For example, in an international research project initiated in 2006 as a Visiting Fellow at Princeton University (Center for the Study of Religion), I have published and presented on the relationship between place, the material past, and identity. In a recent extension of this project, I received a Fulbright (New Zealand) Senior Scholar Award in 2010 to study links between the past and present in revitalization movements, with a focus on LDS (Mormon) communities in the US and Polynesia. For the duration of this award I was based in the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University, Utah, Fall semester 2011. My most recent publication in this area explores the historical anthropological engagement between Māori and Mormon prophet movements (Barber 2015).


Barber, I. (2023, June). Archaeology and the mātauranga science debate. University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand. [Inaugural Professorial Lecture].

Walne, O., & Barber, I. (2022). Multi-element analysis and its application to pre-European cultivation sites in New Zealand: Preliminary findings from T11/2789, Cooks Beach, Coromandel. Proceedings of the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Annual Conference. (pp. 17). Retrieved from

Barber, I. G., & Higham, T. F. G. (2021). Archaeological science meets Māori knowledge to model pre-Columbian sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) dispersal to Polynesia's southernmost habitable margins. PLoS ONE, 16(4), e0247643. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247643

Barber, I. G. (2020). Lands of contrast: Latter-day Saint societies in New Zealand/Aotearoa and Australia. In R. G. Shepherd, A. G. Shepherd & R. T. Cragun (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of global Mormonism. (pp. 455-474). Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-52616-0_17

Barber, I. G. (2020). Further wet-taro evidence from Polynesia's southernmost Neolithic production margins. PNAS, 117(3), 1257-1258. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1918374117

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