White man’s skull has Australians scratching heads
2013 07 03
The centuries-old skull of a white man found in Australia is raising questions about whether Captain James Cook really was the first European to land on the country’s east coast.
The skull was found in northern New South Wales in late 2011, and police initially prepared themselves for a gruesome murder investigation.
A centuries-old skull found in northern New South Wales in late 2011, in Canberra. The skull of a white man is raising questions about whether Captain James Cook really was the first European to land on the country’s east coast.
But scientific testing revealed that not only was it much older than expected, but possibly belonged to a white man born around 1650, well before Englishman Cook reached the eastern seaboard on the Endeavour in 1770.
"The DNA determined the skull was a male," Detective Sergeant John Williamson told The Daily Telegraph.
"And the anthropologist report states the skull is that of a Caucasoid aged anywhere from 28 to 65."
Australian National University expert Stewart Fallon, who carbon-dated the skull, pulling some collagen from the bone as well as the enamel on a tooth, said he was at first shocked at the age of the relic.
"We didn’t know how old this one was, we assumed at first that it was going to be a very young sample," he told AFP.
"When we first did it we weren’t really thinking about people coming to Australia and things like until we started to look at the dates and say, ’Oh, that’s becoming intriguing’."
He said the test used was quite accurate for dates after 1950 but for earlier samples it was more difficult, and the two samples yielded different dates—though both were within the error range.
"Using them (the dates) together we can do some modelling as to what we expect the calendar age to be ... and the way it works out by using those two dates is that we get about an 80 percent probability that the person was born somewhere around the 1650s and died somewhere between 1660 and 1700," Fallon said.
He said there was a 20 percent probability the skull, which was found well-preserved and intact but without any other remains near the Manning River, belonged to someone born between 1780 to 1790 who died between 1805 and 1810.
Historians were cautious.
"Before we rewrite the history of European settlement we have to consider a number of issues, particularly the circumstances of the discovery," archaeologist Adam Ford told the Telegraph.
"The fact the skull is in good condition and found alone could easily point to it coming from a private collection and skulls were very popular with collectors in the 19th century."
Read the full article at: phys.org
Captain James Cook (1728 - 1779) - BBC.co.uk
Cook was an 18th century explorer and navigator whose achievements in mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and Australia radically changed western perceptions of world geography. As one of the very few men in the 18th century navy to rise through the ranks, Cook was particularly sympathetic to the needs of ordinary sailors.
James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in a small village near Middlesbrough in Yorkshire. His father was a farm worker. At the age of 17, Cook moved to the coast, settling in Whitby and finding work with a coal merchant. In 1755, Cook enlisted in the Royal Navy, serving in North America where he learnt to survey and chart coastal waters.
In 1769, the planet Venus was due to pass in front of the Sun, a rare event visible only in the southern hemisphere. The British government decided to send an expedition to observe the phenomenon. A more secret motive was to search for the fabled southern continent. Cook was chosen as commander of the Whitby-built HMS Endeavour. Those on board included astronomer Charles Green and botanist Joseph Banks.
Endeavour arrived in Tahiti in April 1769 where Green was able to observe the transit of Venus. Endeavour continued on to New Zealand, and then sailed along the length of Australia’s eastern coast, which had never before been seen by Europeans. Cook claimed it for Britain and named it New South Wales. Cook and his crew then returned home, arriving in July 1771.
In 1772, not satisfied by his previous exploits, Cook set out on a second voyage to look for the southern continent. His two ships sailed close to the Antarctic coast but were forced to turn back by the cold. They then visited New Zealand and Tahiti, returning to England in 1775.
Cook’s third voyage was to find the North-West Passage that was believed to link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Unable to find the fabled route, Cook took his two ships south and explored the island of Hawaii. Relations with the islanders were soured after the theft of a ship’s boat. On 14 February Cook tried to take the local leader hostage. There was a scuffle and Cook was stabbed and killed.
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