This is part of the genetic fingerprint encoded upon the mitochondrion sur­rounding every cell in my body. It is the same as that of my mother, and prob­ably her mother as well. It reveals that I belong to haplogroup H*, a group com­monly found in northern Europe, which is no surprise as my great great great grandmother came to New Zealand from England some time before 1849.

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But 1000 generations earlier, a small number of those letters may have been different—a molecular mutation in the DNA that, given the known rate of mt­DNA mutation, places a genetic marker on the route my forebears took out of Africa. When those markers are con­nected I can plot the migration of my mothers, a sinuous but uninterrupted genetic trail through history’s gauntlet of warfare, famine and disaster and across continents and seas, before coming to a stop, completely and finally, with me.

The mitochrondrial DNA in my cells will never be passed on. My daugh­ter bears my surname, and shares half of my nuclear DNA, but inscribed on every cell in her body is the mtDNA signature of my wife, my wife’s mother, and her grandmother—mtDNA is only passed down through the mother’s line, a characteristic which makes it perfect for tracing heritage.

Using this signature, Massey Uni­versity’s Leon Huynen confirmed the ethnicity of a skull found in the Rua­mahanga River in October 2004, and in doing so, opened a Pandora’s box of questions which caused us to re-exam­ine our history as a nation. The possible explanations range from the plausible to the outrageous, as you will discover in this issue.

Another riddle of origins can be found in the kakariki story, a tale of how a parrot from the tropics became established on a subantarctic island. In warmer climes Kennedy Warne, Arno Gastieger and Mark Scott follow the path of history and hippies north to Hokianga. We also voyage aboard the Spirit of New Zealand and, with the help of the most powerful microscopes ever designed, peer into the secret world of slime. So turn the page, a great journey of discovery awaits.

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