In 1972, in a swamp near Motunui, Taranaki, a local man discovered five buried wooden carved panels, removed them to his home, and subsequently sold them to a visiting English antiquities dealer for NZ$6,000. The dealer illegally took them out of New Zealand, ignoring the requirement to apply for an export permit, which he surely would not have received.
In New York in 1973, he sold the panels to the famous collector George Ortiz for US$65,000. Ortiz shipped the panels back to his home in Geneva. A stipulation of this dodgy deal was that Ortiz was not allowed to show the panels to any New Zealand archaeologists for a period of two years following the sale: enough time presumably for any heat to have begun to die down, or so it might be thought. In fact these were the ‘Motunui Panels’, which since the 1970s have been the subject of an ongoing debate that has only recently come to a resolution. They are thought to have originally lined the walls of a pātaka, and were speculated to have been deliberately buried in the swamp for safekeeping by Te Āti Awa around the time of a battle at Motunui in 1822. Continue reading Trafficking Culture in New Zealand and Beyond