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’.