Many people are unaware of what to do when they find Maori artefacts and are wrongly keeping them, Ngai Tahu heritage advisor Helen Brown says.
Most artefacts, such as pounamu items and stone tools, are discovered under controlled circumstances such as archaeological digs, Ms Brown says. However, anecdotal evidence suggests finding taonga by chance is common nationwide.
Under the Protected Objects Act, those taonga are the legal property of the Crown and should be handed in to the nearest museum, so it can negotiate the return of the items to iwi.
However, many people don't realise the rules and operate on a finders-keepers basis, Ms Brown says.
For Maori, these taonga are a link to tipuna and whenua, and it is important they are returned to traditional ownership.