Kaimanawa Wall: Ancient Wall from Lost Civilization or Natural Formation?

Updated on May 9, 2017
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Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

The lines do make for a good argument that it's a real wall; however, nature can be tricky.
The lines do make for a good argument that it's a real wall; however, nature can be tricky. | Source

In a panoramic picture on the (now defunct) website Mysterious New Zealand.co.nz, Kaimanawa Wall looks inconsequential. Partially covered by foliage from Kaimanawa State Forest, south of Lake Taupo, the wall can be barely seen from afar. A closer look, however, reveals what the controversy surrounding it is all about. The wall looks like a stack of stone blocks, assembled -- possibly by hand. On top of that, the “carved” stones appear to be old; some researchers in the matter speculating it to be more than 2000 years-old.

Finding such a structure – especially on an island in which the first people to arrive on the island was about 800 years ago - would be cause for celebration. It would suggest that a new chapter in the island’s history has been opened. However, in the 1990s, the wall had the capacity to create a rift among the government and the native Maori tribes. It also brought a lot of doubt upon it when it was finally closely examined.

Three Hypotheses on the Wall

Science-Frontier listed at least three “hypotheses” for the wall's existence.They include the following:

  1. The wall was created by the Waitahas tribes -- the pre-Polynesian culture mentioned by Childress (as the site points out that this has political problems considering that the Maoris arrived 800 years ago and insist they are the original inhabitants. This first nation status is important in terms of receiving compensations for land taken from the European that arrived more than 200 years ago).
  2. The wall is less than a 100 years old and is all that remains of a sawmill.
  3. The wall is a natural formation.

The Discovery

Kaimanawa Wall wasn’t much of a mystery when it was first discovered. Before the 1990s, locals in the area knew of the “wall”. Most of them had dismissed it as a natural, weather and water-eroded rock outcropping. However as trails and roads opened the area to tourists, and more human traffic came through, many visitors were struck by the seemingly smooth blocks stacked atop of each other. To many observers, the blocks in the wall appeared to be too perfect for nature to create.

Two amateur researchers took up the investigation into the wall in 1996. “Geologist” Barry Brailsford of Christchurch, New Zealand was the chief investigator. He was aided by American David Hatcher Childress, an author of literature on lost civilizations. The team came to the conclusion that “there was not a doubt the stones had been cut (Science-Frontier, 1996).” The team also concluded that the structure was over 2000 years-old and came from a pre-Polynesian culture that they claimed left similar megalithic structures elsewhere in the Pacific and along the west coast of South America (Science-Frontiers, 1996).


Dating the Wall Causes Controversy

The basis for the date was rather odd. According to Science-Frontier’s Online Journal, bones of the kiore, a type of rat alien to New Zealand and which was probably introduced by the first settlers, had been dated at 2,000 years old. This was an age much older than the first recorded arrival of the Maoris.

The consideration that a culture existed on the island before the Maoris didn’t sit well with this native group. It may have affected land claims the local Ngati Tuwhatetoa tribe had made. Also, it threatened compensation from the government to the indigenous people of the island nation.

Others voiced their dissent, chiefly geologists and university officials. Even Science-Frontiers retracted their original story a year later in 1997 after it was discovered that the wall was indeed a natural formation.

[Paul Adds] claimed that those who believed it to be remnants of a lost civilization were victims of a hoax. Adds claimed that those behind it were “inherently racist.”


The Wall’s History Falls Apart

The unraveling of the mystery happened after The New Zealand Department of Conservation asked Geologist Phillip Andrews to make an assessment of the wall. The department wrote: “He identified the rocks as the 330,000-year-old Rangitaiki Ignimbrite….he revealed a system of joints and fractures natural to the cooling process in ignimbrite sheets. What Brailsford had taken to be man-made cut, stacked blocks were no more than a type of natural rock formation.

Taupo historian Perry Fletcher and Victoria University lecturer Paul Adds had harsher words for those who proposed Kaimanawa Wall as man-made. Fletcher stated that he had been aware of the structure for decades and thought nothing of it. He claimed that those who believed it to be remnants of a lost civilization were victims of a hoax. Adds claimed that those behind it were “inherently racist.”

Adds' statement may sound harsh and overreaching; however, there are some grounds for such an accusation. For years, groups of "researchers" often associated with ancient-astronaut research, alternative archaeology, and historical revisionism have focused their attention on relics and artifacts found in non-European regions. Many speculated that long-lost civilizations, early Europeans, or aliens were responsible for these relics. Usually, they will ignore evidence that the indigenous people (in this case the Maori tribes of New Zealand) built them (that is, if the wall was real) because they couldn't fathom that they had the intelligence to do so.

The conversations and speculations about the wall have simmered down. Still, the notion of an ancient civilization - including an outrageous claim of Viking artifacts discovered in the Bay of Plenty – will occasionally crop up and be discussed in New Zealand or over the Internet. To date, no evidence exists that the wall is man-made.

Map of the Forest Where the Wall is Located

© 2016 Dean Traylor


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    • ValKaras profile image

      Vladimir Karas 23 months ago from Canada

      Dean - Not claiming to "know" anything in these matters of natural formations - why would a massive stone crack into such "blocks" as to resemble a man-made wall? Why not into some irregular shapes and sizes, not "respecting" any form - let alone something that's so masterfully done that it provokes a controversy among experts?

      Again, my comment may look naïve to those who know of other locations where nature did some incredible things, but it's my simple logic to be blamed.

      In any case, this is quite an interesting and superbly presented theme.