6 August 2008, JellyBean @ 7:46 am

During October, 2004, a local resident of Featherston, on the North Island of New Zealand, was walking along the Ruamahunga River. In the course of his ambling he stumbled over a yellowing, cracked human skull. Hurriedly he called the police, thinking that this could have been the victim of a homicide or accident. What happened next has given rise to an unexplained riddle.

The police noticed that the skull was very old and handed it on to forensic scientists who discovered something very odd. Their research has shown the skull belonged to a European woman who lived about 270 years ago – a century before the first known arrival of white settlers in the country.

Later an inquest headed up by coroner John Kershaw, heard expert opinions on the skull. They estimated that the skull belonged to a woman aged between 40 and 45, but the inquest failed to solve the mystery. Who was she and how could she possibly have been there?

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Two Auckland forensic pathologists, Dr Rex Ferris and Dr Tim Koelmeyer, testified that the skull was not Maori. The Maori are Polynesian people who are the first people known to have colonized New Zealand. Their conclusion was that the skull was definitely from someone of European heritage.

They told the inquest that their findings were based on the size of the skull, as well as comparing specific features of the skull to different racial groups.

The skull was then sent for carbon dating, but this too came back with the same answer. It was at least 270 years old and there were no white settlers there until 1840. How was this possible?

At the conclusion of the inquest, neither the woman’s identity or cause of death could not be found. The conclusion of ‘death has occurred’ was found and the verdict entered into the public records.

Looking into the European history of New Zealand, it was discovered in 1642 by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman but he did not land anywhere on the North Island.

Captain James Cook visited the area in 1770, but this was nearly 30 years after the mystery woman was alive in the area.

The first two European women recorded were Kathleen Hagerty and Charlotte Edgar, British convicts who escaped from New South Wales and arrived in New Zealand in 1806.

A local archivist and historian, Gareth Winter, told the coroner: ‘There were no European inhabitants in the area 300 years ago.”

To further add to the mystery, no ship was ever reported as missing in New Zealand waters during this period either, so it is unlikely that the person was a victim of a shipwreck.

The skull is currently kept in the Wairarapa Museum of Art and History until further scientific tests are carried out.

There has been a lot of speculation and theories about the skull. Some people say that this is evidence that ancient Celtic tribes were much more proficient at seafaring than history allows. Could she be from one of these wandering seafarers?

A more likely solution is that someone brought an old skull over from Europe which was subsequently lost, misplaced or discarded. Others go further by saying that it could be an old skull from Europe but was deliberately planted as a hoax.

It is unlikely that we will ever discover who the woman was or how she came to be there. This skull will probably always remain an enigma and mystery for future generations of New Zealanders.

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