Amateur historian admits grave-robbing Maori burials

Northland historian admits grave-robbing Māori burials
Noel Hilliam says he found skulls that pre-date Māori (Getty)

A self-proclaimed historian in Northland has been accused of grave-robbing after admitting to taking Māori skulls from grave sites.

Noel Hilliam told the Northern Advocate he had found skulls that pre-date Māori. He then sent human remains overseas for forensic examination and facial reconstruction.

The results, he said, showed that New Zealand had been inhabited by European races long before Māori arrived.

"People known in your country as Turehu originated from Wales over 3000 years ago and those known as Waitaha originated from the Mediterranean," the overseas pathologist said him, according to the Northern Advocate.

"The two skulls you randomly uplifted from one site - the female, which I named Henrietta, is Turehu of 23 years of age and 1.3m tall going on the average height of skeletons I examined. She originates from Wales.

"The Waitaha male is 34 years old 1.65m tall, average among the skeletal remains examined, and originates from the Mediterranean."

However Mr Hilliam's research, which has no academic basis, has been widely criticised.

"The statement that the young adult woman is from Wales is ludicrous. There is no way to find that information out from the skull size and shape, nor is it possible to tell that a person has blue eyes and blonde hair from skeletal features," University of Otago bio-archaeologist Dr Siân Halcrow told Vice.

Worse, his actions have been condemned as racist and illegal.

"It is the violation of a sacred site. Them raiding urupā and acquiring ancestral heads - they haven't said where from - makes me really concerned," Auckland University senior lecturer Dr Ngarino Gabriel Ellis told Vice.

"Taking from urupā, just like from anyone's [grave], is a violation of our funeral practices. These are our ancestors. They were not intended to be removed and distributed.

"It's also illegal to go and tamper with anyone's grave - so why aren't there criminal charges being pressed?"

Mr Hilliam has refused to name the 'experts' he talked to, and told Vice that while he knew he was breaking the law, he did it because the law was unjust.

The Northern Advocate has since removed the article.

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