Canterbury Museum has acquired the Frances Ryman Collection in an auction held by Webb’s auction house on Thursday 24 September. The collection of over 60 taonga Maori from Matariki Point on the north bank of the Clarence River, was excavated by Frances Ryman during the 1960s with the professional guidance of Dr Roger Duff, Director of Canterbury Museum. Frances Ryman gained permission from the farm owner to carry out archaeological work on the site before the area was to be ploughed, however once the cultural significance of the site was established ploughing did not go ahead.
The collection is significant because of the unique nature and quality of the items, and also because the application of what would now be regarded as basic systematic excavation techniques enabled Frances Ryman to recover small, damaged, fragmentary and ordinary items as well. Between 1967 and 1981, taonga from the Ryman Collection were held on loan and exhibited in displays in Canterbury Museum and included in major archaeological publications. Subsequent to the collection being on loan to Canterbury Museum, it was displayed at the Ryman family home in Christchurch.
The collection highlights include the terminal end of an extremely rare whalebone rei puta (tongue shaped pendant), which although damaged exhibits unusually evocative reptilian features once augmented with pounamu (greenstone) inlaid eyes (only one now remains intact). A second highlight is a rare amulet of light coloured soapstone in the form of a stylised, abstract human figure. This amulet is one of just a handful of known amulets in stylised human form that do not conform to the vastly more common and popular hei tiki shape.
Canterbury Museum’s Senior Curator of Anthropolgy, Roger Fyfe, said “The acquisition of what must be considered an internationally significant collection into the care of Canterbury Museum is a very important moment. It ensures that all these amazing taonga will be preserved and accessible through exhibitions and research for future generations, in perpetuity”.