For many years a small but dedicated group of archaeologists and researchers have been exploring one of New Zealand’s most taboo subjects – the question of whether or not settlements existed in New Zealand prior to the arrival of the “first canoes” of the Maori. While thanks in part to their work, the fact that New Zealand was populated prior to the arrival of Maori settlers has now been well established (despite the reluctance of some people to acknowledge it), the discovery in 1874 of an ancient carved tree stump is potentially the most important archeological “anomaly”ever found in this country.
The reason? It could be 150,000 years old.
THERE is a problem with official NZ history.
While orthodox NZ historians continue to insist that NZ was uninhabited prior to the arrival of the Maori, at the same time they acknowledge the fact that virtually every other important island in the South Pacific bears lasting evidence of deeply ancient “megalithic”(carved huge standing stone) civilisations.
From the famous “Ring Road” of Rarotonga to the gorgeous megalithic artefacts on Tonga and the standing statues of Easter Island – all bear witness to an advanced civilisation that roamed the Pacific, established settlements and left behind not only clues, but monuments.
Orthodox historians still contend, however, that somehow New Zealand missed out on these ancient explorations and settlements and was ignored by these peoples in their wanderings around the Pacific – even though megalith evidence has been found here as well, and verified by some of NZ’s most distinguished scholars of the 19th century. J Macmillan Brown in his seminal work Maori and Polynesian remarked on the discovery of not one but two “Stonehenge” type arrays here, in Ateamuri (near Lake Taupo) and the Bay of Islands.After a brief moment or two of national debate, 19th Century New Zealanders got on with other things, and these discoveries were subsequently ignored.
Orthodox NZ historians, like so many others in so many other disciplines, have a huge investment in “established” knowledge, and it is very difficult for actual facts to overturn a deeply held mindset. Indeed, one would seriously wonder how ancient peoples managed to miss a couple of islands as big as ours, while at the same time locating and populating and extensively traveling among many islands infinitely smaller than NZ all over the Pacific.
But let us remember, after all, a long history of academics selecting only “facts” and material that fit their preconceived perceptions while ignoring and/or discarding those which do not fit with the prevailing paradigm of their time.
There is an alternative history of NZ to the official one, and it often shows up in material evidence discarded by those who cannot come to accept the validity of that material evidence when it is at variance with their own prior beliefs.
There are many other clues to this alternative history of ancient New Zealand and regardless of how they are ignored, they continue to murmur away quietly in the corner of our awareness. Some are found in the myths, legends and carvings of the Waitaha, in which we see the history of a nation composed of 200 Iwi who arrived in NZ in the 2nd century AD.Note that this settlement precedes that of the Polynesian Maori Iwi by 1000 years – this warrior race from the Polynesian islands having arrived during the years 1250 to 1350 AD.
But most intriguingly, the story of the Waitaha Nation also contains reference to other people living in New Zealand before their arrival.
Were these “Waitaha” legends the only references to pre-Maori NZ settlements, we could probably safely ignore them. However, when coupled with hundreds of other tantalising examples along the same lines, we begin to suspect a deliberate “cleansing” and shaping of history to satisfy a specific agenda.
More Evidence Still
For the serious and honest researcher into pre-Maori settlement of New Zealand, there is another tantalising piece of evidence in the little-known canal systems of the North and South Islands.
I have made measurements from aerial photographs of a site near the Awanui River in Northland and estimate that there are more than 200 km of interconnected canals or waterways. Measuring 2 metres across and up to 1.5 metres deep, it is estimated that more than 25 million baskets of spoil, weighing out an average of 40 kilos each, had been moved.
This would be on a scale comparable to the massive similar excavations accomplished by the ancient Mayan civilisation in the Yucatan.
While we are completely unsure how ancient this canal system is, or who made it, orthodox NZ archaeologists and historians are beginning to acknowledge that there may be something yet to the pre-Maori “theory”.
• Pollen dating, used effectively as a dating method overseas, is now used in New Zealand, and according to an article in the New Zealand Herald 26th June 1999:
“…Recent analysis of pollen samples and ash found in peat cores taken from Motutapu Island, backed by radiocarbon dating, suggests that deforestation (attributable to the felling and clearing by man) occurred there at least as early as 1200 BP. (BP represents before present at a date set as the year 1950).
This means that perhaps the first millennium dawn chorus (of birds) did have a human audience…The implications, if these findings are substantiated, are profound and the reverberations in the archaeological ampitheatre are likely to be similar to those caused by the discovery in the South Island of bones of the native kiore (rat) dating to about 2000 BP.”
From the Wellington Dominion 24th July 1999: “Pollen ‘shows early Maori arrival’.” “Evidence from fossilised pollen suggested Maori could have arrived in New Zealand before the time of Christ – up to 2500 years ago – a Massey University expert said yesterday.
“Massey geographer John Flenley, an expert in palynology – the use of fossil pollen to detect human impact – said there was pollen evidence that would be at odds with latest findings. (Reference to the recent dating of Moa bone fragments by Highman to 700 years.) Vegetation changes in New Zealand, possible indications of early human presence, could place settlements in New Zealand as far back as 2500 years.”
The headline in the Dominion 23rd July 1999, read: “Humans ‘could have come and gone’ 2000 years ago.”
“The controversial belief that the first people landed in New Zealand about 2000 years ago has been upheld by new evidence in a paper by Christchurch fossil researcher Richard Holdaway.
“Dr Holdaway says that the presence of a population of kiore (native rat) implies a visit – of whatever duration – by humans and he stands by his radiocarbon dating conclusion that rat populations were established in the North and South Islands “contemporaneously” at between AD50 and AD150.”
New Zealand Listener 13th April 1951. “New Zealand Cave drawings in Danger. – An article on the study of South Island rock drawings by Dutch artist, Theo Schoon, and the deterioration of sites.”
“…The photographs that he (Schoon) sent me …. show me that the paintings date for the most part from before the arrival of the Maoris – the work perhaps of a Moa hunting people who were completely exterminated by the anthropophagous Maori shortly before the year 1000 of our era.”
An article, “Legends Tell of Tribes who Came Before the Fleet”, appeared in the Auckland Star, 27th September 1957:
“As every schoolboy is supposed to know, Kupe discovered New Zealand about AD 950, and found it unoccupied.
“Researchers of the caliber of the late Sir
Peter Buck throw doubts on this story that Kupe found New Zealand unoccupied. They have unfolded legends, which assert that Kupe did, in fact, see many signs of habitation.
“Certainly by the time the Toi expedition arrived a century or two later (c1150 AD) there was no lack of inhabitants in New Zealand. They were so numerous, say the legends, that the followers of Toi spoke of them as ‘ants’.
“The ‘human ants’ whom Toi discovered were given the name of Tangata Whenua, the ‘first comers’. Where they came from, we can only guess. They settled on many points of the North Island, and their numbers were such that they pre-fixed the word “tini”, meaning “myriad”, to their family name. The people of Tini-e-Maruiwi were the “human ants” whom Toi found on the Tamaki Isthmus (Auckland).
“When the Great Fleet arrived two centuries later, there was great surprise at the extent of the Tangata Whenua population at Tamaki: they were even more surprised at the pattern of their defences on the volcanic hills that dotted the isthmus. It was something entirely different from the Maori of the Fleet. They had never seen anything quite like this in their homeland islands.”
The paradigm changes
Although the earliest dates of human habitation in NZ (as well as various other places around the Pacific) are being slowly pushed back as the evidence continues to emerge, there is much more evidence still that remains in museum basements and storage facilities, and will never see the light of a display cabinet. This is because much of it is of a nature that cannot be explained, and therefore remains hidden from view. However, while we are aware of many such artefacts, there is nothing thus far discovered as utterly intriguing as the 1874 discovery of a carved tree stump together with its carving implement – the age of which defies not only the accepted paradigm but almost the imagination itself.
The actual tree stump itself was discovered near Albert Park in Auckland, while the workmen were excavating for the library at the University. It was found under 25 feet (8+ metres) of sediment, together with a stone implement which was presumably used to carve it. The discovery was duly noted in both scholarly and popular journals of the time. It was unremarkable save for the fact that lying undisturbed under 8 metres of sediment meant that it would have to be very, very old. Perhaps, as some experts have noted, more than 150,000 years old.
Unfortunately, this discovery was not considered important enough to merit its preservation and got “lost”. Neither the implement nor the stump was ever mentioned again in the literature.
The Hard Evidence
The original scholarly paper on the discovery was titled “Notes upon the probable Changes that have taken place in the Physical Geography of New Zealand since the arrival of the Maori” by T.H. Cockburn-Hood, F.G.S. (p112-120). In it the author “explains some scientific evidence in the form of an ancient stump that proves ancient inhabitants existed in NZ in a period prior to volcanic land formation. It is evidence of human activity in NZ prior to the laying down of ancient volcanic debris.”
The Auckland Southern Cross newspaper ran a “Report on the chopped tree stump” and it apparently created quite a stir at the time. This is their report:
“Report on the chopped tree stump”
“An exceedingly interesting relic of the very remote past is now to be seen in the office of the Improvement Commissioners. It is the root of a tree found in one of the cuttings being made under the direction of that Commission.
The root has evidently been chopped through by a stone adze, which was found beside it. There were also several small branches and roots of the same tree on which the edge of the stone adze had been tried, and the whole crown of the stump had the marks of having been laboriously and patiently cut through by the rude stone implement in the unknown past, and by one of an equally unknown race of human beings.
The root was found when cutting the sewer up the middle of Coburg Street, near the lower end, a little above its junction with the continuation of Wellesley Street, and at a depth of about 25 feet below the surface of the Barrack Hill at that place. From the surface downwards for about 14 feet, at the place where the root was found, the hill is composed of volcanic matter. Below that depth, for about 8 or 9 feet, there is a series of layers of a mixture of sand and clay, which appears to have been at one time deposited under water. Below that is a large bed of fine blue ‘washdirt’ resembling blue clay.
These strata and the blue clay do not seem to have been disturbed by volcanic action, and the several strata are lying with the utmost regularity possible. It was in the upper portion of the bed of blue clay that the root was found embedded, standing upright as if it had grown there, and the several small branches which were found at the same place were of the same kind of timber, and bore plain and distinct marks of the stone implement upon them.
The inference to be drawn is not only that the islands of New Zealand had been inhabited long anterior to (before) the migration of the Maoris to them but that they had been peopled before the extinct volcano in the neighbourhood of the present Mechanic’s Institute had begun to belch its mud torrents and streams of melted lava.This conclusion seems to be inevitable, whether it be assumed that the tree grew where the root and the implement of its destruction were, or whether, as some incline to think, a river had run where the blue stratum is found, and that the root had been carried from a distance to its resting place. In either case the root must have been where it was found the other day, not only before the volcanic matter was deposited on the Barrack Hill, but for a sufficiently long period before that to permit a stratum of 8 to 10 feet in thickness to be deposited.”