Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Dem bones

A couple of weeks ago I castigated works of pseudo-history, and in particular Gavin Menzies' masterpiece of pseudo-history 1421: the Year China Discovered the World. Since then a number of pseudo-historians have turned up in the comments boxes here, to talk about how Celts or Indians or little green men discovered the place we know today as New Zealand.

One commenter, David Dray, believes that pre-Maori settlement of these islands is confirmed by the radiocarbon dating of rat bones:

Love to see you try to explain those rat bones Maps. They blow apart all the myths of the liberal intellectual establishment. That's why there's a conspiracy to keep quiet about them. The bones don't lie!

After I failed to respond promptly to his challenge, David posted a little celebration:

What about the RAT BONES Maps?
YOU have no ANSWER to those BONES!


I hate to piss on Dave's parade, but I think the case he's celebrating counts against the notion of pre-Maori settlement, and definitively disproves the claim that there exists some sort of nefarious secret society of liberal academics determined to quash research into the early settlement of these islands.

The bones David refers to belonged to a kiore, or Polynesian rat, which was dug out a remote Hawkes Bay hillside by a group of amateur archaeologists back in the '50s. One of the group noticed that the rat had been found underneath the layer of ash deposited by a volcanic eruption at Lake Taupo about eighteen hundred years ago. He placed the rat in a matchbox, and deposited it in a museum. There the critter remained for four decades, until biologist Richard Holdaway subjected it to new-fangled radiocarbon testing which seemed to confirm its vintage.

Holdaway's finding caused a sensation amongst Kiwi archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians, because it suggested that humans got to New Zealand far earlier than had been suspected. Kiore could not reach these shores without human help, but archaeological evidence for settlement trails off about 1300 AD, and analysis of pollen, seeds and other records kept by mother nature suggests that humans had not been doing much to disurb the environment much before that date. If it did arrive here about eighteen hundred years ago, then the kiore was as unsuccessful as the humans who brought it: analysis of the casing of seeds shows that marks made by rats' teeth do not appear before about 1280 AD. How, then, can Holdaway's finding be explained?

Holdaway himself has protested that he does not have the expertise to supply a detailed explanation for the anomalous kiore. He has suggested that a group of Polynesians probably arrived with some rats, dropped them off, and either returned home or died without establishing a viable colony. The rats survived, and had an impact on the populations of many indigenous species. Some other scholars have assented to this view, and tried to fill out its details, but they struggle to explain why seed casings do not show evidence that rats existed on these islands as little as eight hundred years ago.

Led by archaeologist Atholl Anderson, other scholars have aggressively disputed Holdaway's finding. Sceptics have queried the accuracy of radiocarbon dating and the veracity of the archaeologist who boxed and deposited the rat, and have asked whether the kiore bones might have been deposited under the Taupo ash layer by nefarious rabbits. Subsequent expeditions to the site of the original find have yielded up the bones of other kiore, but only above the ash layer. Radiocarbon tests on the new finds have not produced any surprises. The debate that Holdaway's find initiated is far from over.

I think that the kiore bone controversy has two lessons for pseuds like David Dray. In the first place, it shows that researchers on New Zealand history are not some sort of monolithic bloc engaged in a conspiracy of silence about key questions like the date of the first settlement of these islands. Debate about Holdaway's findings has been public, loud, and sometimes vituperative. It has raged in academic journals, at conferences, on the internet and even, on occasion, in the mainstream media.

David should also note that the kiore bones are deemed problematic by experts precisely because they collide head-on with evidence that there could not have been any more than, at best, a tiny human population on these islands until less than a thousand years ago. The massive civilisation which people like David posit would have entailed the felling of many trees and the widespread use of fire, amongst many other things. Where is the natural record of such events, if they took place more than a thousand years ago?

For a warning about 'alternative archaeology', and a thorough explanation of why it is so very unikely that Celts or Phoenicians got here before Polynesians, visit this excellent page at the Archaeological Association of New Zealand site.


Blogger Fatal Paradox said...

It really is remarkable how many of these cranks there are - my partner is an archaeologist specialising in lithics analysis and she routinely has people contacting her with new and incontrovertable "proof" that NZ was first settled by the Celts/Chinese/Phonecians etc

What's even scarier is when these people enrol for stage 1 anthropology courses!

12:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What evil crap.

5:44 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real history of mankind is a battle between those who seek to build the high places (pyramids and stone circles), graven images of the heavenly host and their groves and those who follow the Creator God.

The builders of the high places, the graven images and the groves (Bohemian Grove) are those whose purpose is to enslave. They are rebuilding those pyramids and YOU are the ancient sacrifice. Are you ready to become a slave to be sacrificed again on the Pyramid of the Moon?

10:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book Ancient Celtic New Zealand uses the term Celtic because there are such strong similarities between artifacts, design and structures, here in NZ that some link with the old world is very highly probable.

What we have there are;

Stories of tall "giants" skeletons, some in full body armour.

Stories of wee folk, some also wearing armour.

Mummies encased in Kauri gum resin

Phoenician Pottery

Standing monoliths

Pyramid hills

No doubt that some of these pyramids were dedicated to the Sun and Moon as with the Mayans and others.

The ancient settlements clearly became a slave hell hole. On the coast a place showing signs of stone buildings and walls, was later a place of horrific cannibal feasting, murder and imprisonment.

Cannibalism was rife as indeed shown in the other Pyramid of the Moon sites. The cannibals really seemed to take great delight in devouring a person alive, by carving chunks off the persons body and then gorging themselves while the person was forced to watch! To the cannibal this appears to have been an enormously entertaining method of insult

And even here you have "over-rule" and "castism" by a small group of elite people, the same Brahmin perhaps? The Celtic "Brahmin" were of course the Druids.

"Why when early 14th and 15th century European explorers to the Pacific and NZ write (yes, written observations) about the European looking natives in the region. They described them as red, fair and blonde haired with blue grey and Euopean coloured eyes, and fair to ruddy complexions (even sun burnt) with many others no darker than the olive complexioned mediterranean Europeans. It is even noted that those in elite positions seemed to be the fairest. Some of the darkest tribefolk are said to be descended from the darkest of folk from the Indian sub-continent."

This website here that describes some of this is on the one-hand pointing to the early obvious Aryan/Brahmin influences and then at the same time trying to blame the Maori for the atrocities.

This is so typical of the way that these people operate, blaming others for their abominable practices. The abominations comes from the priestly cast of Brahmin who never went away. They live amongst us now and are rebuilding their Pyramids of the Moon on a Pyramid of Historical Lies.

[link to www.kilts.co.nz]

This page very cleverly, as is so typical, joins 80% truth with some fabrication. That is what makes their propaganda so effective.

But make no mistake - the Pyramids of the Moon once covered the Earth. It spanned the Celtic lands, Egypt, India, and the Far East, as well as the Americas and the Pacific. It is the Empire that your school text books, written by the Priests of the Moon, will never tell you about.

10:51 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I did stage 1 Anthropology -it was quite fascinating - I had always been interested and read about Thor Heyerdahl - but had myself concluded his "conclusions" were dubious..that said - I loved his books. His book Aku Aku is great.

But I feel the theory that the Maori (or the Polynesians etc) came down over a period of about 40,000 years is more plausible.

These historical things are not easy to pin down though - and the views of "cranks" should be allowed and debated as long as..we are all tolerant! We could be wrong!

I have a neighbour from Turkey who denies evolution - carries an amulet of Zeus - and believes we came from Martians 800,000 years ago! I just say something silly to humour him, or give him the Hitler salute or whatever, ask him about his garden and so on, and we get on brilliantly!! He also has everything centred around Anatolia... (I was told this derives from the philosophy and methods of Attaturk)

My son also believes in Aliens and that there is God etc etc and rejects evolution - but you have to realise that people often love to keep these ideas -wrong or not -as a part of what they are.

I have some crazy ideas myself - but we should thus be tolerant of all views...

We were warned not to mention certain writers on these theories at Anthro - now that is wrong - people should be allowed to say whatever they think or believe - it is bad socially and in my view it is bad philosophically - science can also be used to crush peoples' ideas or independence of thinking. Science in the wrong hands is as evil as black magic if that is evil.

While I reject David Dray's (David Gray's?) conclusions I keep an open mind (I use a can opener!) - who knows but we may find that someone else lived here before the Maori -this of course doesn't mean - X before Maori - X killed by Maori - so thus we are justified in pushing the Maoris around or out...this is usually the motivation of such theories (if it is it doesn't explain why who got here first "matters" as such ) (just as it is always puzzling why Christians (St Augustine does this in his "Confessions" [great book BTW] but he does it brilliantly and constantly proves God cant exist - then reverts to "faith"!!) etc give complex logical reasons why God exists when they are supposed to KNOW he or she it exists and has always existed!))...but as I say - I keep my mind open - anything is possible on a planet of rats and apes!!!

12:55 am  
Blogger maps said...

Hi Tim,

nice to hesr from you. Be great if your aprtner could write something on this sort of stuff - as you've probably noticed, I'm jus an enthusiastic amateur!

Hi Richard,

if you keep a completely open mind your brain falls out! Knowledge advances through the elimination of incorrect ideas, and we can safely eliminate the idea that there was a substantial human population here before about 1200 AD. There just isn't any evidence for forest clearance before then.

I don't want to ban any book, but I don't think that Graham Menzies' tome and similar stuff should be used in any way in anthropology or history courses. The pseuds demand that 'all views are represented', but their views shouldn't be part of academic courses for the same reason that creationism shouldn't be taught alongside evolution in schools and at universities.

I agree, of course, that everyone should be allowed to hold whatever views they want about anything they want. At the same time, I think it is both sad and dangerous that so many people hold the same sort of wacky views that your son and neighbour espouse.

It's sad, because people cannot really know themselves if they don't know the history of the society in which they live. On the surface, pseudo-history, with its secret pyramids with paintings of spaceships on the walls and massive cover-ups by a shadowy establishment, might seem more exotic and exciting than the real thing, but the real thing is actually fascinating, if people would only take the time to learn about it.

It's dangerous because it means that ideologies which employ pseudo-history can win converts (hint - one of the leading pseudo-historians in NZ is a fan of David Irving), and because it creates a hige divide between 'experts' and the rest of the population - the sort of divide that leads to science being used in an unsupervised way for nefarious ends.

We can't have public debates on how to use expert knowledge to tackle problems like, say, global warming if most of us believe that Zeus is responsible for heating the planet up, or that we're living in the end days so it doesn't even matter if the planet goes kaput.

7:42 am  
Blogger Richard said...


I disagree - or I agree with a scientific approach - but I believe one DOES need to keep an completely open mind, and these ideas of Irwin's etc are not inherently "dangerous" - they (or similar right wing or confused - or in some cases they are "true"! - are always with us - always here - and they do some some people some good - strangely enough - it is the interaction of 'right' and 'wrong' ideas or the interaction of many views and ideas that matters -it i unlikely there are any (or many - or as many as we would like to think) provably "correct" ideas but this leave us disagreeing - I personally support the view that e.g the Moriori were not previous to Maori, and that Maori were not preceded by Celts or Martians - but I like to allow those views - what am saying is we need to NOT suppress such ideas. We need to let ("many blossoms bloom") - I myself began at 18 or so studying to be a scientist - I wanted at that time to be a biochemist or a microbiologist. I believed at the time (about 1966) that science would solve everything! Rather naive / absurd of course... science still fascinates me but I am very skeptical now of (say Hegelian) ideas of linear progress or "correctness" ...

Of course Irwin is incorrect but we have to show why he is - similarly with the creationists - they ask questions that many people cannot answer. Of the Earth's total population very few by % have enough knowledge to comprehend evolution.

I personally don't think it does any harm for people to hold crank views (I have worked amongst many people who hold such - one gets used to it if one really works amongst REAL working people) - it challenges the politically correct academics. Many of whom are far too smug in their "rightness" - some make me feel THEY are pseuds. I also allow my son his view of God etc. That is his world view. I don't know if there is God - how can I know? It is not even certain to me that evolution is "correct" - however for now I accept it...on one level (I a read great book by Bodmer on the subject of biochemistry/genetics etc which was very interesting - but... there are stil "many strangenesses").

I am not concerned about Global Warming (I thnk the whole thing is fed by dubious data and ethkidnof "doomsday" things I saw/see in the 60s and right on to now - they (including Nobel Prize winning scientists such as Linus Pauling) who were saying that the world would end in the 80s in the late 60s!!) - I think we are only temporary on this earth in any case...

The new that the world as it is marvelous etc I agree with BUT - Richard Dawkins for example (while his writing is great, and the 'reality he describes is indeed fascinating)) 'protesteth too much'...and forgets the power and necessity of the human imagination - and the mystery. Hence the need for poetry -where perhaps Heidegger comes in...where poets come in: with their necessary madness.

11:04 pm  
Anonymous Jason said...

Hi Maps,

It's a terrible shame that the dating of these rat bones opens the door for crackpots who have a political agenda to 'discover' ancient populations in New Zealand before the Maori. But the thing is, every civilisation that supposedly got here was too advanced to leave behind no obvious trace.

However, the dating of the bones does provide somewhat of an anomaly, suggesting New Zealand's history is not quite as clean cut as one great migration. Definitive finds have included obsidian flakes and evidence of settlement as early as 800 - 900 ad, so I think we can conclude that settlement was sporadic for a period, but perhaps there was a large migration at a later date.

Therefore, any folk tale regarding Kupe and the like discovering these lands as uninhabited can be described as slightly glorified. They must have at the very least, found other Polynesians here.

We must remember, it is Maori oral tradition, not Pakeha agenda, that describe a flaxen race of people who were encountered by the earliest explorers. Infact it would seem that far from making a swift assimilation of NZs interior, the tuwharetoa tribe (ngatoroirangi, Tia) were first resident at kawerau for a time before infiltrating the lake Taupo area and discovering people who they called the Ngati Hotu. The stories of these people have been blown out of proportion by those wishing to discredit the Maori for personal retribution, but the fact is, they exist, and one has to question the origin of these tales.

Remember, Maps, that just because there are crackpots looking to fulfil a political agenda, one has to be intrigued that these folk tales exist at all. Were the polyneisans the only inhabitants, no information, no skant evidence would exist at all. But it does, when it shouldn't. This alone should warrant interest. I look forward to your reply, and please remember I have no racist agenda (that rhymes), I'm purely acting out of a personal interest. Please ignore any lack of punctuation or mistakes, I have written this on an iPad.

11:52 pm  
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