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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ancient voyaging canoe uncovered

The New Zealand press is alive with it.  And, naturally, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is animated, while the scientific community is vastly intrigued.

The remains of an ancient voyaging canoe have been located in Anaweka, a remote spot in the South Island of New Zealand.  

We know it was built here, because the timber is  NZ matai, an indigenous pine. And, according to carbon dating of the caulking material, the canoe was last caulked back about 1400 -- which might mean that the canoe itself is quite a bit older, as the craft were re-caulked at regular intervals.

The colonization of the islands of East Polynesia was a remarkable episode in the history of human migration and seafaring.
Early Polynesians were a seafaring people with highly developed navigation skills. They colonized previously unsettled islands by making long canoe voyages.
There is evidence that by about 1280 CE, they had settled the vast Polynesian triangle with its eastern corner at Easter Island, the northern corner at Hawai’i, and the southern corner in New Zealand.
Until now, reconstructions of the canoes used by Polynesians have been based mainly on much later observations from European explorers.
In 2012, Auckland University archaeologist Dr Dilys Johns and her colleagues found a 6-meter section of an ancient canoe on the remote northwestern end of New Zealand’s South Island a short distance from the sheltered Anaweka estuary.
According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the canoe – dubbed Anaweka canoe – was built of wood in New Zealand and made its last voyage around 1400 CE.
Reconstruction of the complete Anaweka canoe. Image credit: Geoffrey Irwin / University of Auckland /
Reconstruction of the complete Anaweka canoe. Image credit: Geoffrey Irwin / University of Auckland /
It was about 20 meters in length. The wood was identified as New Zealand matai (Prumnopitys taxifolia).
The Anaweka canoe has a sea turtle carved on its hull that makes symbolic connections with ancestral Polynesian culture and art.
“A remarkable feature is a sea turtle carved in raised relief at the shaped end of the canoe. A raised ridge behind the turtle could represent its wake as it moved through the water, or is possibly suggestive of an extended tail,” the scientists wrote in the PNAS paper.
“Turtle designs are rare in pre-European Maori carving; however, turtles are known in New Zealand waters. It is likely that the turtle motif relates to the early age of the canoe and its cultural associations with tropical Polynesia.”
“The Anaweka canoe provides new information about ancestral Maori canoe technology and insights into early technology and seafaring in tropical East Polynesia,” they concluded.

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