TRM have heard such enthusiastic responses from so many inmates recently. They started reading the new book – there is one in every unit of course – and after the first 20 or so pages they realised they just had to buy a copy to discover what happened before they could give it to their mother for Christmas?
With perfect timing and uncanny judgement to hit the peak Christmas market, TRM now provides a “teaser” from the first few pages with only the essential paras to outline the conceptual basis of the plot to show this is much more than just another fishing story. Then you will understand why the Christmas purchase is such a good “investment”. The following is an abbreviated version of the start of the fishy tale to encourage you…
All profits go to a worthwhile charitable fund for conservation of local trout rivers.
In January 2020 the old man and Sonny Jim went exploring to fish the remote upper Tongariro River. Their route was above and beyond the formed anglers access tracks heading for a more challenging unexplored location. The anticipation was heightened by some sneaky trespassing through the nearby prison farm, which extends for about 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) on both sides of the river. As the main prison nearby at Rangipo had been closed for several years they thought it unlikely that they might get disturbed or caught. The only other means of access were by canoe or raft down the river… (Paras 2, 3, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8…etc have been deliberately missed.)
… Then without warning, the river surface texture changed when it thickened from crystal clear to a cloudy colour as a murky pumice loose raft of floating gravel drifted down. Erosion from soft pumice slips is not uncommon along the Tongariro River banks. That signalled the end of sight fishing to spot trout, so the two explorers pushed though the secondary scrubby bush to try to tramp up above the slip.
After wading and climbing up the bank for about half an hour they could clearly see eroded steep contour upriver where the bank had caved in to reveal something curious poking out of the hole formed in the slip just above the river flow. Further up river above the slip the river was clear. The slip occurred in a bypass on the TRB of the main flow where it would never be noticed by rafts of tourists floating down. But it was in the hollow at the base of the slip that revealed something more interesting. There was definitely something unusual exposed.
Sonny Jim arrived first to discover, to his astonishment, an old parched human skeleton had been revealed under an ancient dugout canoe that appeared to have been used to protect the skeleton like a primitive sarcophagus or vault – but without any coffin to secure the body remains. (Sonny Jim immediately remembered reading about similar upturned canoes discovered in nearby Tokaanu being used to protect dead bodies of chiefs or priests, exposed during the excavations of the tailrace for the Tokaanu Power station.)
His old man eventually arrived slowly, cautiously relying on his wading pole to prevent any chance of slipping down the soft wet pumice gravel into the river.
Only the skull cranium – a grey-brown paper thin shell – remained fully revealed, balanced finely on the edge about ten feet (indicates the warden was another old fossil who had still not adjusted to metrics) – three metres – above the river level. Other skeletal bones had been buried in a crouched foetal manner.
The immediate danger was the skull could easily slide into the river if disturbed. Even at first glance it was evident the delicate skull was very old and had met a violent death. The back of the skull – the parietal, as he discovered later – had been partly crushed by a blunt weapon or club. It was precariously positioned close to the river edge in the crypt-like exposed space.
The initial reaction was a futile attempt to phone the police but there was no cell phone reception deep in the river gorge. So action man took over. Sonny Jim was instantly morbidly fascinated by their discovery. A surge of unfamiliar adrenaline surged through his body. He felt his pulse quickening. His face became hot with feverish excitement.
Without hesitation, to save what was left of the cranium from slipping into the river, he carefully lifted it off the skeleton. It easily lifted from what may have once been other facial bones. Then it was gently sensitively wrapped it in his wading jacket parka and placed in his creel – his fishing bag. At the same time he felt he was crossing an imaginary threshold from his world into the ancient spirit world. The old man was more concerned just to keep his balance while worrying whether they should cross themselves to keep any spooky spirits at bay.
Afterwards, even before wading out, both reported they experienced strange feelings, which could only have come from unfamiliar spiritual vibes caused by their meddling. Scary stuff. Sonny Jim recounted from somewhere deep down in his memory bank was some Maori protocol to gently brush any human bones with a fresh green leaf before touching, but it was too late. There was no green vegetation within reach as it was all buried under the slip. Both experienced an uneasy feeling that any remaining spirits would be upset, but they could not leave the exposed skull in such a precarious position. If only they had wiped it with a green branch. It may have prevented the chain of events to follow, but nobody could ever have anticipated what they had just initiated.
On their return they confessed their most memorable sensation was from the moment Sonny Jim touched the skull, the surrounding gorge darkened and the monotonous hum and buzzing of cicadas in the bush went deathly quiet. It was spooky. Quite remarkable. Or did their memories just imagine that to add more drama to their experience, which was to be subject to intense questioning and re-examined many times?
Any fishing or exploring for the rest of the day was forgotten. Playing at archaeologists became more interesting. Little did they realise, that decision to retrieve the skull would be like winning lotto power-ball several times over to change Turangi forever. For Sonny Jim it was to become his ‘Indiana Jones’ moment.
They could just discern a hollowed pointed end of what appeared was the remains of a dug-out canoe with cobwebs suspended like stalactites, as the rest was buried in the loose pumice. Regretfully, they were so nervous and hyped simultaneously, they completely overlooked the opportunity to take any cell phone photo images of the shallow exposed hollow crypt.
In the circumstances they decided to return immediately to Turangi taking the remains of the skull as evidence of their unexpected find. They returned on much the same winding route marking their new track by breaking branches in case they had to find it again. Eventually after climbing the bank and hill beyond to recross the Whitikau Stream again they reached the forestry track and firebreak about two hours from the location of the slip. About one hour later they biked back along the Tongariro River Trail to TRM, anxious to examine and report their unusual “catch” of the day.
A call to the local police immediately followed and an inquisitive young duty constable called at the motel soon after to proceed with the first of many questions. Her first concern was asking why the police were not informed earlier. She was naturally concerned that picking up human bones would violate every tenet of legal evidence – her police training suggested the procedure needed for a possible murder victim? The lack of any cell phone coverage in the river gorge was accepted. She hesitated to take the remains of the skull shell back to their police station as Sonny Jim advised of his intention to investigate the age through radio carbon dating with independent experts.
The truth was he had no idea if that even worked but he had instantly become an enthusiastic amateur archaeologist and forensic anthropologist. He confidently suggested it predated early Maori occupation as indicated by the crouched positioning of the skeleton. A typical academic know-all.
There was a difficult question and answer session as the anglers were aware they were trespassing on DOC (Department of Corrections) prison farm, all in the name of fishing. They were relieved that was not an issue, at least not with the police anyway. The real difficulty was trying to accurately identify on maps for them to know exactly where on the remote river they discovered the exposed grave. Due to the late hour she left the skull remains at the motel overnight, to return with more uniforms the next day.
After a brief conference the next day Indiana Jones guided the extended party of seven curious officials to investigate the grave site – comprising one local policeman, one Ranger from Department of Conservation (Taupo Fishery Managers), one Corrections Department (land owners), one from Taupo coroners office representing Heritage New Zealand Archaeologist Department (spooks), plus two from the local Maori tribe, hopefully representing tangata whenua, the tribal rununga iwi authority or local marae (tribal interest).
They were loaded up with everything that might be needed such as latex gloves and camera equipment and tools including spades, trowels and scrapers, all prepared for a more thorough archaeological dig to investigate the burial site. For the return trip the police had quicker direct access driving through the prison farm road directly off SH1 to the location.
The old man was excused – still exhausted by all the emotional excitement and recovering from the physical ordeal. Instead, he spent the day more fruitfully on google to explore the procedure to assess the DNA plus carbon dating and trying to check any legislation or precedents on how discovered human remains are dealt with by the authorities. He was surprised how easy it was and paid online for a full independent examination to determine the age of the skull and any likely DNA provenance.
Before anyone could object and prevent him, it was posted off for analysis to the Massey University Institute of Molecular BioScience based in Auckland, one of a small handful of ancient DNA specialists in New Zealand…
…Meanwhile the investigation team’s descent down to the river flat near the slip was much easier from the road. But to Sonny Jim’s astonishment, all evidence or signs of the hollow grave site had disappeared, been buried overnight by a further larger slip. Loose pumice was still falling into the river. He estimated the grave was now about another two to three metres buried somewhere in the pumice land slide and the contour was now too difficult to access.
Subsequently procedural uncertainty and Mr. Bean-like bumbling and confusion prevailed. The police Maori Liaison Officers lost interest when they realised Sonny Jim’s discovery was formally allocated into the category of an accidental discovery of an ancient archaeological site. So they no longer had any jurisdiction, once it was established that it was not a crime scene. The Police pathologist team was not required as they could not remove any remains hidden and buried under tonnes of slip material. They were all off the hook…
…They also suggested Sonny Jim needed to provide his DNA sample for analysis as he had handled the skull without any latex gloves, and his fingerprints would inevitably contaminate the skull. There the matter should have ended once the age was determined, but the eventual result shocked the entire nation…
Most unexpectedly, the skull DNA analysis results were potentially better than winning the greatest lotto power-ball ever and would change the entire Turangi landscape forever. But they had yet to discover that.
The story grew. The skull discovery news soon leaked out, from person to person to person until everyone in town knew. Any news as quirky as this usually takes about a day to circulate and penetrate everywhere in any small village in New Zealand. But a discovery of an ancient grave takes less time amongst the Maori tangata whenua community. Their social networking was always faster somehow but with the introduction of cell phones and ipads, their communication is faster than the police network. Sometimes it needed to be much quicker – just saying…
…TRM is particularly popular with anglers having the longest sixty year occupancy record of steady regular visits from “inmates” often staying several weeks at the same time each season, depending on their preferred fishing style. The TRM website had posted fishing reports for the last fifteen years and moved over to face-book in recent years with usually several posts every day. As such it is read by a wider audience than just anglers and often comments on anything else that may be of interest in local affairs or tourist attractions or anything else that anglers send in that takes the editor’s fancy. So from TRM’s face book the news of the skull discovery spread like wild fire.
New Zealand daily newspapers missed the story or it may not have been considered relevant enough as they were preoccupied and distracted by their own problems of survival. The only mention of the skull find in the local newspaper was as a minor sideline and did not generate much interest at first. The Turangi Weekender is a weekly periodical of local news, eagerly devoured by everyone in Turangi.
Their journalist had checked their historic files and the article reported how, about fifty years ago, the Ministry of Works development for the Tongariro Hydro Scheme had excavated various ancient sites and excavated 16 villages with 246 dwellings, 20 burial sites and 71 bodies which were moved to an existing cemetery on the hill above Tokaanu. The archaeologists found the largest collection of pre-Maori artefacts in New Zealand in the Tokaanu Power Station tailrace excavations.
Then the skull story went viral – from TRM’s blog to the world on the waves of every latest telecommunication device and gadgets and hi-tech hardware which the old man hardly knew existed. That was followed by intensified pressure from the news media…
Before the ‘authorities’ had time to review their processing action on the skull, TRM had posted it off for DNA analysis and carbon dating, as invited on several websites. A few years ago this may have been a laborious scientific process but with modern communication technology it was the equivalent of buying on Trade-Me and only a credit card transaction away.
According to an article the old man researched on a science site, forensic technicians could test a suspect’s DNA in two hours, fast enough for police to ram it through their crime data bases and determine what ever they were searching for. Within two weeks Sonny Jim’s old man had all their answers, which is where this plot really starts…
With about the same odds as winning power-ball, Sonny Jim had hit the jackpot. The old man advised on face book that they were shocked, bewildered, delighted and mystified to discover Sonny Jim and the skull shared the same DNA reading. This suggested he and his family – Sonny Jim in particular – were likely the only surviving ancestors of an extinct race. The pre-Maori Korakos? Moa Hunters? The Patupairehe? Speculation spread faster than wildfire… The seeds of a gigantic plot were planted.
Unlike the other Ngati-Hotu or other pre-Maori ancestory claims, the old man decided he now had material proof. Undeniable proof. It amounted to absolutely irrefutable evidence. Others had claimed links in the past based on verbal histories passed down many generations, but these had failed to impress the Waitangi Tribunal and other Government appointed ‘experts’. But matching DNA could not lie. Sonny Jim’s family was quietly jubilant when they considered the various possibilities arising from the DNA. It was beyond coincidence.
Again this remarkable coincidence soon leaked (by TRM guests?) on social media facebook blogs etc. Fuel was added by every new rumor and eventually picked up and reported in the local newspapers. After previous newspaper reports of similar claims from the Ngati-Tohu tribe in the upper Wanganui River region around Kakahi, the report was initially downplayed locally as old recycled news. Initially it failed to gain any traction beyond the immediate Taupo-Turangi region.
But they overlooked the immense power of modern communication over the web. Social Media! TRM reported much of the story of the skull discovery and the analysis in several segments via the motel website blog on face book over the next week. At first there was the usual response with a few thousand ‘likes’ and ‘wows’. Then, when the freakish DNA coincidence was confirmed, it exploded.
When the other fishing blogs got hold of the story it quickly expanded to tens of thousands. Then, within the next week, it took off into the stratosphere with zillions wanting more info. It was more than just the ‘finding a skull’ storyline as the potential that had been completely overlooked. Sonny Jim was meanwhile more focused on rechecking his DNA for a peer review with another ‘independent’ laboratory. His DNA result came back to TRM with the same match. It took the bloggers on the world-wide-web to spell it out in potential dollar terms before he fully realized the mammoth wider implications.
To order your copy ($45 incl. postage in NZ) email your name & address to: firstname.lastname@example.org