Was Captain Cook beaten by a girl?

At work in a radiocarbon-dating laboratory

At work in a radiocarbon-dating laboratory

A woman’s skull, found in Wairarapa in 2004, has been carbon dated as being 296 years old – plus or minus 34 years. Forensic scientists can tell from a skull’s morphology whether or not it was a Māori skull and whether it was a man or a woman, and the skull wasn’t that of a Māori.

This challenges New Zealand history, as there were no white settlers (male or female) here then. The first documented white women (Catherine Hagerty and Charlotte Badger, two escaped convicts from New South Wales) are thought to have arrived in 1806.

If the carbon dates and the forensic interpretation of the skull form are accurate, then a non-Māori woman, probably a European, was alive in Wairarapa around 1678–1746. This was 36–104 years after Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 (he never landed) and at least 23 years before Cook’s first voyage in 1769!

So how can this be explained? Again assuming that the carbon dates and forensic interpretation are correct – is it possible that a Dutch (or some other) ship reached New Zealand between Tasman and Cook? The Dutch knew of New Zealand from Tasman, but, although they planned a follow-up voyage in 1643, this never occurred. The arrival of a ship between Tasman and Cook is of course pure speculation.

In terms of the recent carbon dating, it is only one skull and there are assumptions made with any analysis – that is why scientists couch their findings with words like ‘possibly a European female’ and ‘was probably Caucasian’.

5 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Adam || August 6th, 2008

    Thanks for the heads up on that Carl, though you might be getting ahead of yourself. I’ll make no bones about it, this woman was obviously a victim of skullduggery.

  2. Comment made by Carl Walrond || August 6th, 2008

    Adam your puns are as bad as they come - and to cram four into two sentences is a remarkable achievement.

  3. Comment made by Bart || August 6th, 2008

    It’s also possible that the skull was brought to New Zealand as a keepsake (remember Yorick, whom I never knew) and then lost. We know she was alive between 1678-1746, and that the skull was found in Wairarapa. It doesn’t mean she lived there. There’s also got to be an argument for possible contamination in terms of carbon dating. Bruce Macfadgen gives a good example of contamination here: http://www.teara.govt.nz/NewZealanders/MaoriNewZealanders/WhenWasNewZealandFirstSettled/5/ENZ-Resources/Standard/3/en

  4. Comment made by Cathy || August 6th, 2008

    I hate to be picky but your title ‘Was Captain Cook beaten by a girl?’ doesn’t sit well with me. This skull is of a woman 40-45 years old. She is not a girl. I know blogs should have attention-grabbing titles and this one definitely does, but it also sounds demeaning to both the woman and Capt Cook.

  5. Comment made by Carl || August 6th, 2008

    Cathy - fair enough. The original title was ‘Wairarapa skull’ - then someone suggested the current title which grabbed me. I also thought about the girl/woman thing - and justified it as she may have been a girl when she got here (if she did that is) - pretty weak argument I know. Anyway - I’ll pass the buck - the blog editor was talking about it today and she said she didn’t want to act as a ‘censor’. Thnx for commenting!

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