Scientists are baffled after carbon dating showed the skull, a woman's which was found near the country's capital, Wellington, dates back from 1742 – decades before Cook's Pacific expedition arrived in 1769.
The discovery was made by a boy walking his dog on the bank of a river in the Wairarapa region of the North Island, an area settled by Europeans only after the establishment of a colony by the New Zealand Company in 1840.
Dr Robin Watt, a forensic anthropologist called in by police who investigated the discovery, said yesterday: "It's a real mystery, it really is. "We've got the problem of how did this woman get here ? Who was she ?
"I recommended they do carbon date on it and, of course, they came up with that amazing result."