Emeritus Professor Geoffrey Jacob Irwin


Profile Image
Emeritus Professor

Research | Current

  • Archaeology: Pacific and New Zealand archaeology.

Geoff's research focuses on two main areas:

1) In the Pacific he has studied early colonisation, navigation and the emergence of seaborne trading systems. The exploration and colonisation of the Pacific was one of the most remarkable episodes of human prehistory. Early seagoing explorers had no prior knowledge of Pacific geography, no documents to record their route and no navigational instruments, but the study of indigenous navigation and the archaeology of early settlement suggests that colonisation was rapid and purposeful. Geoff has done archaeological fieldwork in eastern Indonesia, New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji. He has sailed on traditional New Guinea canoes and on one occasion took his own 11-metre yacht across the western Pacific retracing the route of the first Pacific explorers. This experience, plus computer simulation, has influenced his view of how the Pacific was first settled. Recently he has collaborated with engineers from the Yacht Research Unit, University of Auckland to study the sailing performance of traditonal Pacific canoes, both ancient and modern.

2) Excavation of a waterlogged Māori Village. Kohika was a late Māori lake village in the Bay of Plenty occupied for a period in the latter half of the 17th century and unusually preserved because of its wetland location. Abandoned because of flooding, it remained untouched until 1974 and its excavation and analysis has been a thirty-year task by a number of scholars from different disciplines, making this a major New Zealand excavation of recent times. The diversity of the evidence uncovered and the specialist analysis done on the material reveals extensive information about the social and domestic activities of a village community before the advent of the pakeha. The research covers canoes, houses (including the oldest-known carved house), wooden artefacts, fibrework, pounamu and obsidian, animal remains and diet. There is important information on the trade, economy, leisure, and social hierarchy of these early New Zealanders, and the site is an important contribution to our understanding of late prehistoric Māori culture in the North Island.

In New Zealand Geoff has also studied the emergence of defended Maori tribal landscapes dominated by fortified pa in the Kaipara and Hauraki Gulf.


Teaching | Current


Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 1999

Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, London, 2005

Fellow of the New Zealand Academy of the Humanities, 2009

Elsdon Best Memorial Medal, The Polynesian Society, 2013

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Irwin, G., Johns, D., Flay, R. G. J., Munaro, F., Sung, Y., & Mackrell, T. A. (2017). A review of archaeological Maori canoes (waka) reveals changes in sailing technology and maritime communications in Aotearoa/New Zealand, AD 1300-1800. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 8 (2), 31-43.
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/48432
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Dilys Johns, Richard Flay, Timothy Mackrell
  • Irwin, G., & Flay, R. G. J. (2015). Pacific colonisation and canoe performance: Experiments in the science of sailing. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 124 (4), 419-443. 10.15286/jps.124.4.419-443
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Richard Flay
  • Bell, A. V., Currie, T. E., Irwin, G., & Bradbury, C. (2015). Driving Factors in the Colonization of Oceania: Developing Island-Level Statistical Models to Test Competing Hypotheses. American Antiquity, 80 (2), 397-407. 10.7183/0002-7316.80.2.397
  • Johns, D. A., Irwin, G. J., & Sung, Y. K. (2014). An early sophisticated East Polynesian voyaging canoe discovered on New Zealand’s coast. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 111 (41), 14728-14733. 10.1073/pnas.1408491111
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/2292/23286
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Dilys Johns
  • Irwin, G. (2013). Wetland archaeology and the study of late Māori settlement patterns and social organisation in Northern New Zealand. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 122 (4), 311-332. 10.15286/jps.122.4.311-332
  • Irwin, G. J. (2012). Wetland occupations in New Zealand. In F. Menotti, O'Sullivan A (Eds.) The Oxford handbook of wetland archaeology (pp. 197-210). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199573493.013.0013
  • Irwin, G. J., Worthy, T. H., Best, S., Hawkins, S., Carpenter, J., & Matararaba, S. (2011). Further investigations at the Naigani Lapita site (VL 21/5), Fiji: Excavation, radiocarbon dating and palaeofaunal extinction. Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 2 (2), 66-78. Related URL.
  • Irwin, G. J. (2008). Pacific seascapes, canoe performance, and a review of Lapita voyaging with regard to theories of migration. Asian Perspectives, 47 (1), 12-27. Related URL.

Contact details

Primary office location

Level 7, Room 720
New Zealand