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Priceless pounamu collection gifted to GNS Science 8/11/2017

More than 1500 pounamu (greenstone) and Jade specimens have been gifted to New Zealand by New Zealand Pounamu and Jade expert Russell Beck. About half of the specimens are from New Zealand and the rest are from other countries where nephrite jade is found.

The taonga, which is from Beck's personal collection and is known as the “Beck International Jade Research Collection” has been given to the GNS Science National Rock and Mineral Collection. It will provide a resource to support science on New Zealand’s most important mineral taonga.

The collection is comprised of 30 large display items, plus many smaller specimens.

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The gifting was confirmed at a ceremony at GNS Science in Lower Hutt recently, attended by Russell and Ann Beck and their son Peter, senior Ngai Tahu officials and representatives from other iwi, government officials, and GNS Science staff. 

Beck has studied greenstone for more than 50 years and is New Zealand’s foremost pounamu expert. He has worked closely with Ngāi Tahu and GNS Science to survey deposits in the South Island and has also travelled extensively to collect specimens in other countries. This includes China, North America, Siberia, East Asia and the South Pacific.    

Close friend and colleague of Beck, Geologist Simon Cox of GNS Science, said Beck’s research collection was is an internationally unique resource, and one of only a few collections in the world that has that had specimens from so many countries.

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“Specimens have been selected as much for their geological curiosity and interest, as for their beauty, and have geological contacts with the country rock, unique growth textures or weathering, for example,” Dr Cox said.

“Each are capable of telling a scientific story about the formation and history of pounamu/jade. It is an amazing resource that we can use to understand our national mineral taonga, but also to characterise a range of geological processes like earthquakes and fluid circulation that occur deep down in the earth where pounamu is formed,” he said.

“GNS Science is absolutely thrilled to be looking after this collection on behalf of New Zealand.”

 Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Lisa Tumahai said the generous donation would allow visitors to share in the beauty of the collection.

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GNS Science is absolutely thrilled to be looking after this collection on behalf of New Zealand

Dr Cox

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“Throughout Māori history pounamu has been regarded as a taonga and many share a strong spiritual connection with the stone.

“Ngāi Tahu have worked with Russell in the past and he has always looked after our taonga and shared its beauty with the world.”

Ngai Tahu are the guardians of Pounamu in Te Wai Pounamu (South Island). Pounamu rights were returned to the iwi in 1997.

Beck is also a carver of considerable standing and has written four books on pounamu/jade.

Dr Cox said it was Beck’s wish that the collection remained intact as an active research legacy that would promote further work on the unique properties and formation of pounamu/jade.