Breastplates constructed from polished pearl oyster and carved sections of whale ivory (civavonovono) are instantly recognisable markers of chiefly status from historic Fiji. Within museum collections, as well as much of the literature that surrounds these objects, attention is frequently given to their ‘art’ status and the level of technical prowess evident in their manufacture, which accords with their status as valuables. While there is no contesting the skill involved in their manufacture, an analysis of four civavonovono using explicitly archaeological techniques revealed significantly more complex life histories than commonly assumed. Indeed, it became apparent that civavonovono were not static, purpose-built status symbols, but rather constantly dynamic composite objects being refashioned and recombined through time. The application of archaeologically derived analytical techniques thus not only has the ability to complement other lines of data and enquiry, but also works to establish a common ground between archaeology and anthropology in the area of Pacific Arts, which can constructively move forward the field at large.