Did the ancestors of the Celts sail to New Zealand and establish a network of megalithic survey points and astronomical sight lines? Some think so

The prehistory of New Zealand is generally thought to be fairly simple. Permanent colonisation from Polynesia began around 7-800 years ago, with a European presence here from the late 18th century. It’s possible that some Polynesians arrived earlier — though still controversial, some carbon dates for kiore (Polynesian rat) bones appear to show this species has been in the country for 2000 years, and it could not have dispersed here without human assistance. There is no evidence that any early human visitors established permanent settlements, however. The Kaharoa ash shower, which blanketed much of the central North Island, can be reliably dated to 700 years BP, and to date not a single archaeological site has been unequivocally located below this layer. Pollen records indicate that widespread changes in the veg-etation, generally believed to be human-induced, began about this time, as did a wave of animal extinctions which continues to the present day.

There are persistent claims, however, of more ancient colonists, who have supposedly come from much further afield. These have included the Phoenicians (Invent Your Own History of New Zealand, Skeptic 68), the Chinese (Book Review: 1421, Skeptic 67), and the mysterious, though apparently non-Polynesian, progenitors of the Waitaha people (A New Age Myth: The Kaimanawa Wall, Skeptic 41). Among the more active of the alternative archaeology enthusiasts in this country are those promoting an early Celtic (or more precisely if somewhat confusingly, “pre-Celtic”) presence in New Zealand, stretching back perhaps 5000 years. They have a website (www.celticnz.co.nz), largely written and administered by Californian-born and New Zealand-educated Martin Doutré, who is also the author of a hefty book, Ancient Celtic New Zealand, available through the site.

The Celtic New Zealand adherents assert that before their utter annihilation at the hands of invading Maori there was an earlier, neolithic culture, who left abundant evidence of their presence in the form of standing stones, cairns, earth “tors” and other features which occur throughout the country. The Kaimanawa Wall is taken to be one such feature, but to date most of the group’s attention has been focused on the area around Maunganui Bluff and the Waitapu Valley, on the west coast of Northland, near the Waipoua Forest. The countryside in the area is strewn with rocks, which seem unremarkable at first glance, but Doutré and his associates show considerable willingness to look deeper. The stones may be lying in disarray now, they argue, but that is because Maori and other latecomers have toppled what were once standing stones set up in very precise alignments, and farmers have moved and piled the rocks to facilitate farming operations. By taking a wide view of the entire region, they claim it is possible to see that these rocks are part of an elaborate network of survey points and astronomical sight lines. However government-funded archaeologists, in thrall to a Waitangi Tribunal-dominated elite, have turned a blind eye to the whole affair.

As one example of these alignments (the site supplies many), a giant equilateral triangle is depicted, “positively marked” into the landscape of the Waitapu Valley region. The vertices of the triangle are at features named the “southern hubstone”, a “purpose built tor mound”, and a conspicuous buttress of rock high up on Puketapu Hill. Each side of this triangle, as measured by Global Positioning System (GPS), is supposed to be 11,520 feet in length. This is highly significant, they say, as 11,520 feet is precisely 80% of a “Geomancer’s mile”, or 14,400 feet, allegedly a measurement used copiously in ancient Britain. Those familiar with numerology will not be surprised to learn that the Great Pyramid of Egypt has a basal area of 20 times 11,520 feet, and that 11.52 minutes must be deducted from 365.25-days in order to fully correct the solar cycle duration to the Mayan/Aztec calendar number of 365.2420-days. Most readers of this magazine will probably know how easy it is to find these types of correspondences.

So how well recognised is this unit, the Geomancer’s mile? A quick Google search turned up precisely two pages which use the term — both of them on the Celtic New Zealand site. Yahoo! did slightly better, locating another site, www.gnostics.com, which uses the term, although according to them a Geomancer’s mile was 57,600 feet. In any event, careful measurement of the distances between the three apices of the triangle shows that it isn’t equilateral at all. Two of the sides may be quite close to the figure of 11,520 feet (identifying the locations precisely from the map provided is impossible), but the third is well short — about 10,165 feet.

Even if the triangle had been equilateral, a photo further down the web page makes it clear how such superficially dramatic figures can be concocted. The southern hubstone, it turns out, is one of many rocks in a boulder field extending over a considerable area atop the cliffs north of Maunganui Bluff. It’s not even particularly large — sub-stantially smaller than the “important sight over stone” sitting next to it, for example. Other rocks in the vicinity, which range in size from over six feet down to six inches (these apparently small stones are embedded firmly and are presumably much larger) align with other features in the landscape. The hubstone is identified solely on the strength of its numerologically significant distance from some other distant feature. If some other distance had been chosen, a different rock in the boulder field would have become the hubstone.

And what of the other features? There is a photo of the “purpose built tor mound”, which to the untrained eye could easily be mistaken for a small hill in a paddock. This is the problem with the sites identified by Celtic New Zealand; neolithic sites in Europe are clearly artificial; these are not. If you want to see a purpose-built earth mound, go to Silbury Hill, near Avebury; there’s no mistaking its artificial origin. This “tor”, and the other “tors” photographed by Doutré in the Maunganui Bluff area look like any small hill or grassy knoll (what is it with conspiracy theorists and grassy knolls?) anywhere in the country. The word “tor”, by the way, usually refers to a natural, steep and rocky hill, not an artificial earth mound.

The third corner of the triangle is similarly problematic: “a conspicuous buttress of rock situated high up on Puketapu Hill”. Why not the summit of the hill itself? It’s easy to go around identifying the points in a complex landscape, selecting some as significant, and passing by others. (Though of course the summit of the hill has other features which make it significant.)

The Overland Alignment Complex

The Maunganui site is, supposedly, part of a network of survey points and astronomical observatories which is probably nationwide. The Celtic New Zealand site identifies Maunganui as part of a “huge overland alignment complex” which takes in selected mountain summits scattered around North-land (Figure 2). Why, they ask, did the makers of this sequence design it to duplicate the star pattern of the Hyades Cluster in Taurus? Well, the short answer is, they didn’t, even assuming that “they” ever existed. The locations that supposedly make up the complex have only the vaguest correlation with star patterns in the Hyades (Figure 3). The similarity can be enhanced by drawing lines between the points, and by selectively omitting stars from the patterns drawn, but apparent similarities can be produced in this way from any two sets of random dots.

A similar process of join-the-dots has been used to produce the “Waitapu Standing Stone Observatory” out of yet another boulder field. The observatory is centred on a “hubstone”, from which a number of significant alignments and measurements can be obtained. Again, the site is supposed to have been badly damaged following the Maori conquest, but it is still possible to work out where the stones once stood before they were toppled. One, for example, must originally have been 24.8832 feet east of the hubstone. Its position coded the circumference of the Earth, which is 24,883.2 miles. How the neolithic engineers positioned and measured the distances between their large, lumpy rocks to the nearest micrometre is not explained. Other stones “code” such significant numbers as various dimensions of the Great Pyramid, the lunar nutation cycle (an 18-year oscillation of the moon’s axis), the equatorial circumference of the Earth, and the internal circuit of the Sarsen Circle at Stonehenge.

Again, this is classic numerology. And unlike genuine neolithic observatories, this one mostly doesn’t seem to measure anything useful. It’s primarily supposed to be a huge mnemonic device for coding a whole bunch of cosmically sig-nificant numbers. Couldn’t such a wise and sophisticated society simply have written these numbers down somewhere?

The Waipoua Stone City

Close by Maunganui Bluff, in the Waipoua Forest, are a number of stone walls, which are clearly artificial. Celtic New Zealand logic about stone structures is curious, to say the least. They begin with the assertion that Maori did not build in stone. Therefore, they conclude, any rock structure in this country could not have been built by Maori, and must have been the work of some other ethnic group. It is true that Maori generally preferred to build with wood and other plant materials, but I’ve personally seen a small, simple rock wall, very similar to those in Waipoua, at an unmistakeably Maori site. The Waipoua walls, it has to be said, are very crudely built of unshaped, unmortared stones, mostly less than a metre high — items that a couple of unskilled workers could put up in an afternoon.

Also present in Waipoua are hundreds of enigmatic rock piles, dubbed “beehive houses”. These are alleged to be comparable to the megalithic dome dwellings of Britain and Europe, destroyed by Maori who arrived long after they were built. But there is no evidence that they were dwellings of any kind. Particularly significant is the absence of any of the debris generally associated with human occupation. If there were hundreds of people living here over a period of perhaps thousands of years, where are their discarded tools, shards of pottery, personal ornaments, religious artifacts? The only artifacts from Waipoua that the Celtic New Zealand website can show are a couple of very crude, but distinctly Maori-looking adzes.

Comparison with a genuine 5000-year-old neolithic site, Skara Brae in the Orkneys, is instructive. The layout of the dome dwellings here is unmistakeable, as is the presence of many beautifully preserved artifacts, including pottery, jewellery and tools. The Waipoua Forest site is utterly different. (Ironically, Skara Brae has also attracted the attention of alternative archaeologists, who regard it as an Egyptian outpost! — see www.geocities.com/futhark_runes/SkaraBrae_AncientEgyptianSettlement.html). Far more likely that the Waipoua stone features are either natural, or produced by Maori within the last few centuries. The walls may mark the boundaries of garden plots, while the rock piles may have been cleared from areas to be planted.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the Celtic New Zealand scenario is that so much alleged evidence for it is tied up with the supposed surveying network. Apart from this, the “pre-Celts” seem to have left little trace of themselves. It’s as if our entire civilisation had vanished and left nothing but trig stations, survey pegs, the Linz offices, and a few astronomical observatories. If there really had been a vibrant, mathematically sophisticated pop-ulation living here for 4000 years, there would be more evidence of their former presence. And would they have been so easily vanquished by a few boatloads of Maori?

The Maori connection is revealing. The Celtic New Zealand home page asserts: “Politics and the agenda’s [sic] of racial groupings have no place here. We simply wish to uncover the truth as it relates to the distant past and in doing so know better the land which is our home in the present.” Yet the first four items on their Articles page are links to the Treaty of Waitangi site, to an item on an alternative early draft of the Treaty, an account of “Waitangi Tribunal and Government terrorism against a NZ farming family” — the Titfords of Maunganui Bluff, and a link to the One New Zealand Foundation website. There most definitely does appear to be an agenda here, and in these times of heightened racial tension it is a potentially destructive one. New Zealanders of non-Maori ancestry do not require a 5000-year heritage to establish their con-nection to this country. Which is just as well, because New Zealand’s Celtic prehistory is quite plainly a fantasy.

David Riddell is a Waikato ecological consultant.

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