Art + archaeology + technology

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 12:20 28/12/2012
Alicia Webb
Emma Allen

Peering into the past: Ben Webb, 11, left, and his sister Alicia Webb, 14, read about centuries-old moko chisels found on the Wairau Bar in the new Exhibition at the Marlborough Museum in Blenheim.

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The Marlborough Museum in Blenheim is pairing art with technology to emphasise the historical significance of the Wairau Bar, home to the oldest known burial site in the country.

Dating back to the 13th century, the Wairau Bar is an internationally recognised archaeological site near Blenheim.

Marlborough Museum chief executive Steve Austin said he was both excited and honoured to present Marlburians and visitors with the story of this significant area via the museum's Wairau Bar Exhibition.

"It's the only exhibition of this scale in new Zealand which deals with the first settlement of New Zealand," Mr Austin said.

"We know that there were four people buried on the bar - and those four people were children from the first generation of Polynesian settlers."

The permanent exhibition, a four-and-a-half-year project, traced the history of Maori from their migration across the Pacific Ocean, to their arrival in Marlborough and early way of life.

"Due to the foresight of Rangitane, and their work with archaeologists and scientists, we have had an explosion of information in recent years," Mr Austin said.

"These insights are shared in this exhibition."

To make the story more accessible to audiences, the museum has used eye-catching design and layout.

It includes a fibre-optic floor feature depicting the waterways that once wound past the Wairau Bar and out to Cloudy Bay. A centrepiece of three wooden waka, and cabinet displays of moa bones, various tools and weapons and jewellery, are among other relics and recreations on display.

Pairing art and technology in a modern-day museum was vital for maximum audience appeal, Mr Austin said.

"One of the things we tried to do was to bring together a combination of visual art and present it in a way that an audience can appreciate," he said.

"The days when we just plonked something here or just accumulated items are gone - that's not how we are now."

Since assuming his role six years ago, Mr Austin had endeavoured to make the museum both relevant and connected to the community, he said.

"It started with the opening of the wine exhibition here in 2009," Mr Austin said.

Most of the artefacts on display have been unearthed from the Wairau Bar over the past 50 years and donated to the museum, he said.

The exhibition is open from 10am to 4pm at the Marlborough Museum, 26 Arthur Baker Place, Blenheim. Entry for adults costs $10; children, $5.

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- The Marlborough Express

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