Jesus Watch
© Watch: Investigations into this unusual rock carving have uncovered that an ancient Greek celestial calendar had been carved into it. The rock carving dubbed Jesus Watch by those who found it was discovered on a Northland farm recently.

Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman could lose their place in history as the first Europeans to reach New Zealand.

A controversial book, To the End of the Earth, claims to contain evidence that Greeks, Spanish and Egyptians settled in New Zealand long before the Maori people. The 378-page book, to be released this weekend, was co-authored by researchers Maxwell C Hill, Gary Cook and Noel Hilliam.

It shows ancient maps drawn before the birth of Christ, which the authors said detail the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand.

Skeletons, rock carvings, stone buildings and monuments all attest to people of European origin living in New Zealand for centuries before the arrival of Polynesians, they said.

The artefacts include a rock carving of an ancient Greek ship found in Taupo, a stone pillar with an accurate coastal map of New Zealand showing Lake Taupo in its pre-232AD eruption shape, and carvings on rocks at Raglan.

Hill said a huge boulder weighing several tonnes, deeply cut into a huge circular star calendar and marked with what were believed to be figures and rebuses, was the most stunning find.

He said there was also evidence that showed Maui was not the legendary Maori god-explorer, but an actual Egyptian naval navigator, who steered a flotilla of Greek ships to discover new shores, Hill said.

The book quotes Professor Barry Fell, of Harvard University in the US, who interpreted graffiti drawn on limestone in caves at McCluer Bay, on the coast of Indonesia.

Hill said Fell's find names Maui as a navigator from the Red Sea under the flag of Ptolemy III in 232BC.

A cave inscription near Santiago, Chile also shows the Maori god-explorer was an Egyptian navigator, saying the point was "the southern limit of the coast reached by Maui," Hill said.

However, AUT University professor Paul Moon said the authors lacked credibility as none of the writers had any qualifications in history, archaeology, anthropology or related disciplines.

Ptolemy's maps were not an indication at all that New Zealand was discovered by the Greeks or Egyptians, he said.

"This is no evidence at all that people came to New Zealand at this time. On the contrary, Ptolemy's map shows a complete lack of geographical knowledge about the South Pacific," Moon said.

British botanist and TV personality David Bellamy has defended the book, according to Hill.

"Max Hill has filled his steerage log with a collage of artefacts any museum would like to have in its keeping," Bellamy said.