Monday, May 11, 2009

Ruamahanga Skull: The Kennewick Man of New Zealand

The Kennewick Man is the remains of a Caucasian-like person who died 9,000 years ago in North America. The very possibility that a non-Paleo-Indian living in North America that long ago quickly became a political archaeological issue. Some scientists see it as a lost Ainu, others see it a deformed Indian, while activists claim it is an American Indian, period. While the consensus goes closer and closer to somesort of early Caucasian American, the close minded science of archaeology is dragging its feet.

Sadly, there is another heritage battle over bones going on the North Island of New Zealand. In October 2004, the spring flood of the Ruamahanga River unveiled part of a skull. After a police investigation and scientific test it looked like the skull belong to a woman of European origin who died around 300 years ago.

This is where the debate starts. The agreed upon history does not make match. The first New Zealanders, the Maori, came from the Pacific and began colonization around AD 1300. The first European to discover New Zealand was Abel Tasman. Tasman encountered the Southern Island in 1642 and left after a naval battle against the Maori. It is disputed whether or not any sailors landed on New Zealand's South Island. The first European to land on the North Island without a doubt is James Cook who came in 1769.

So how could a European woman be on the North Island? There was established European trading in India, Japan, Taiwan, and Indonesia but the closest historical trade port was approximately 4,500 miles (7,500 kilometers) away (and that's a direct path through the heart of Australia. If it was the skull belonged to an European woman she was a) lost or b) part of a expedition that ended horribly.

Not everyone agrees that it was a European. Some state the skull dating is wrong or the skull belongs to a Maori. There is a legitimate debate because the history does not work out. Unfortunately there are those who argue it must be Maori so the investigation should be closed. The former point is legitimate and must be weighed while the later is the politicization of science.

Time may tell who the skull belong to. Until then, all everyone can agree on is that history is still an open book.


shades said...

There is also the possibility the skull is from a display skeleton brought to New Zealand as a medical teaching aid - which could make a plausible explanation for the age, and possibly the holes.

Catholicgauze said...

Interesting. Is there any site that talks about that theory? It would be neat to read about it; possible conspiracy I presume.

Ali said...

Could it not be the skull of an Iranian woman? Persian sailing vessels regularly traded in the Moluccas.

shades said...
relevant excerpt:
"It is most unusual to radiocarbon date human remains that have no clear provenance without some very good reason to do so.

"The lack of clear provenance and association with recognisable pre-European items means that there are numerous perfectly plausible explanations for such a find if European ancestry were proven.

"For example the loss of some ancient European remains imported into New Zealand in the 19th or 20th century for study in museums or anatomy departments," he said.
The only criticism of the "lost prop" theory I've seen was "what would an anatomical skeleton be doing in a river?"
to which I would counter "what would such a well preserved 300yr old skull be doing up a river in the middle of nowhere with no context?"
It's not a burial site, not near a landing site, shows no signs of cannibalism etc.

Locally there is a thirst to drag up half facts about Europeans being here early, articles about 'lost Portuguese ships' for example. Why we can't celebrate the traditional Polynesian navigation skills that negotiated the pacific superhighway with the same relish I don't know.

Ali - the Moluccas are on the other side of Australia it would have to be a very lost lady pirate?

Catholicgauze said...

Ah! Thanks Shades. I read right over that without thinking.

Lim Jum Mol said...

The Woman was western time traveler from future in time machine experiment in NZ perhaps.