By PAUL EASTON - The Dominion Post
photo by ANDREW GORRIE/Dominion Post
MYSTERY SOLVED? An ancient European skull found in a Wairarapa riverbed could belong to a victim of an early shipwreck, forensic anthropologist Robin Watt said.
An ancient European skull found in a Wairarapa riverbed could belong to a victim of an early Dutch shipwreck, a scientist says.
The 2004 discovery of the skull sparked a coroner's inquest, and the involvement of forensic anthropologist Robin Watt. His findings could overturn what is known about New Zealand's prehistory.
Carbon-dating put the skull's origin at between 1619 and 1689 overlapping with and pre-dating visits to New Zealand by Abel Tasman in 1642 and Captain James Cook in 1769.
The skull, found in the Ruamahunga River by Sam Tobin, was of a woman aged between 40 and 45.
How she died was a mystery, Dr Watt said. The shape of the skull showed it was of European rather than Maori origin.
"When I saw it, I thought what on earth have we got here?"
Permanent occupation by Europeans did not occur until New Zealand Company settlers arrived in 1840. Earlier, whalers came ashore in the late 1700s. So what was Dr Watt's explanation for a woman in her 40s wandering in Wairarapa during the 1600s?
"At this time there was a tremendous amount of movement by the Dutch. We know they were exploring the southern coast of Australia. Anything sailing this way has a chance of being stopped by New Zealand, so for my money there was either a visit here or a wreck. I'd say it was probably a wreck."
The key was that the Dutch ship was on a voyage of settlement, not discovery, and probably heading for what is now Indonesia.
"When they came out, the local governors, dignitaries and the people brought their families, and who was with them? Their wives."