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Richard Walter Contact

Room 2C18
Tel +64 3 479 8754

Research interests

The archaeology of Aotearoa and the tropical Pacific; historical anthropology; the archaeology of culture contact; indigenous history and knowledge, material culture studies, the archaeology of exchange, and cultural heritage management.

I am a field archaeologist and I work in Aotearoa and the tropical Pacific with ongoing projects in the Solomon Islands, Cook Islands and Aotearoa. In the Solomons my research has focussed on prehistoric colonisation including Lapita settlement, and the emergence of late-period Melanesian diversity. I co-directed a long-term project on the development of Solomon Island chiefdoms with an emphasis on the role of cult practices, headhunting and ritual violence in the growth of the Roviana Chiefdom. I am currently working on village-based cultural heritage management projects on Santa Isabel and the Arnavon Islands.

In Aotearoa my major work is in prehistoric colonisation, understanding the lifeways of the first Polynesian settlers as they adapted to the new lands, and on the emergence of the tribal chiefdoms of classical Maori society. The currently direct research and projects in the North and Islands with major funding from the Marsden Fund.

I am also a member of the Coastal People: Southern Skies collaboration that connects communities with world-leading, cross-discipline research to rebuild coastal ecosystems.
Coastal People: Southern Skies

I am a founder and director of Southern Pacific Archaeological Research (SPAR) which is a research unit within the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology that carries out pure, applied and commercial research in archaeology and heritage management throughout Aotearoa and the tropical Pacific. SPAR currently employs three full-time and two part-time staff in a research and consulting capacity.

Visit the SPAR website



1. The Polynesian settlement of Aotearoa

I direct a long-term study of the Polynesian settlement of Aotearoa which has been funded by three Marsden grants over the last 10 years. During that time we have investigated colonisation phase sites across the North and South Islands, and have set out new models for colonisation and cultural change. Our most recent work has been based on excavations at the Wairau Bar site in Blenheim where we work with iwi and University based researchers to investigate the economy, material culture and biology of this enigmatic first-generation community.

2. Community based cultural heritage conservation in Melanesia

I am interested in the theoretical and practical problems of archaeological and heritage conservation in Melanesia. In the Solomon Islands I work in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) where I have developed cultural heritage conservation modules that integrate into TNC's terrestrial and marine biodiversity programmes. The theoretical ideas underlying these programmes are discussed in Walter and Hamilton (2014), see also Hamilton et al. (2015). I am currently focusing on heritage conservation in Arnavon Islands (Solomon Islands) – a conservation region that includes a major turtle hatchery and a rich and vulnerable archaeological record.

3. Lawrence Chinese Camp Project

The Lawrence Chinese Camp was established during the Otago gold rush of the 1860s and was occupied by a Chinese community servicing the goldfields. By the 1870s the Camp had numerous stores, a hotel, boarding houses, physicians, a butchery, gambling facilities and opium dens. Since 2005 we have carried out four large, areal excavations on the site. The research at Lawrence aims at understanding the social history of this overseas-Chinese community living on the fringes of a developing province.


Tromp, M., Greig, K., Kinaston, R., Kramer, R., & Walter, R. (2023). Using Strontium isotopes to understand the ecology of moa. Proceedings of the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA) Annual Conference. Retrieved from

van Os, M., Cross, H., Kardailsky, O., Jeunen, G.-J., Collins, C., McDonald, K., Kinaston, R., Vlok, M., Walter, R., Cook, G., Aung, H. L., Matisoo-Smith, L., Buckley, H., & Knapp, M. (2023). The conundrum of related taxa: Detection and authentication of pathogen DNA in bioarchaeological samples from the Pacific. Proceedings of the 1st Australian & New Zealand Environmental DNA (eDNA) Conference: Innovation & Application. Retrieved from

Jennings, C., Weisler, M., & Walter, R. (2023). An archaeological review of Polynesian adze quarries and sources. Archaeology in Oceania. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1002/arco.5297

Rawlence, N., Walton, K., & Walter, R. (2023). Can customary harvesting of NZ's native species be sustainable? Archaeology and palaeo-ecology provide some answers. The Conversation. Retrieved from

van Os, M., Cross, H., Kardailsky, O., Collins, C., Walter, R., Cook, G., Aung, H. L., Matisoo-Smith, L., Buckley, H., & Knapp, M. (2022). Pathogen hunters: Using ancient DNA to authenticate the presence of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and other microbes in early Polynesian settlers of Aotearoa New Zealand. Proceedings of the Genetics Otago (GO) Annual Symposium. Retrieved from

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