Seeing into Pounamu

August 2017

New Zealand pounamu or greenstone is a rare and precious resource that is highly valued for its strength and beauty. Photo: Louise Thomas.

New Zealand pounamu or greenstone is a rare and precious resource that is highly valued for its strength and beauty. Pounamu has been the basis of extractive and manufacturing industries and trade for over 700 years and now creates export value through the tourism sector. The sector however suffers from theft, fake pounamu, and poor utilisation rates.

The Ngāi Tahu are the kaitiaki (guardians) of authentic New Zealand pounamu. IRANZ member CRL Energy is collaborating with Ngāi Tahu, through the Ngāti Waewae hapu, to bring the pounamu industry and minerals research community together. This research, titled ‘Seeing into Pounamu’, was granted funding from the 2017 Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund.

The research brings together pounamu carvers and researchers with the common aim to improve the efficiency, value extraction, and traceability in the pounamu industry. It will create a high level of interaction between carvers and researchers so that they can both bring their perspectives and knowledge of the material to the programme.

Central to the research is the long term goal of being able to visualise the internal structure of pounamu boulders to determine the location of defects and ideally colours and textures. This information will allow carvers to select the best boulders for cutting and allow them to break boulders down in a way that has the least waste. This information also enables 3D modelling of pounamu boulders and the use of digital design tools to further enhance both productivity and aesthetics.

Through this research partnership, Ngāi Tahu people will gain new knowledge in analytical and digital technologies to enable their long-term participation in design, engineering, and ICT sectors. CRL Energy researchers will gain from a diversification of their research and exposure to principles of Kaupapa Māori in research. This work is intended to be the beginning of an ongoing partnership to explore the research needs of the pounamu industry and ultimately deliver the greatest value to the New Zealand economy from the pounamu resource.