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Friday, June 2, 2017

Prehistoric tsunami

From New Zealand Science

A story by John Edens describes a project by NIWA  (New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research), that pinpoints evidence of ancient paleaotsunami in our country.

Ancient tsunami in New Zealand
The conclusions (and the map above) are based on hard geological evidence -- traces left by giant floods that dumped shells more than 3000 feet  -- 1000 metres -- inland.

The devastation can only be imagined.  As I wrote in Tupaia, this geological evidence reveals that sometime in the fifteenth century, New Zealand was hit by one of these mega-tsunami, with catastrophic effects on the Maori who had settled there about the year 1200.

It is impossible to tell exactly what caused this unbelievably violent event.  According to Chinese lore, a comet plunged into seas just south of New Zealand in June 1430.  Alternatively, there may have been a massive underwater volcanic eruption; perhaps part of the ocean floor collapsed.

Whatever the source of the disaster, from archaeological evidence the horrifying results are clear.  An immense wall of water struck the east coast of the North Island, broke with a tremendous roar, and surged inland, carrying a whirling flotsam of houses, animals, people, plants, and double canoes. 

The immediate catastrophe was bad enough, but it had consequences beyond imagination.  Because the gardens, forests, and fishing beds were destroyed, thousands who had survived the deluge starved to death.  Ancient artifacts were lost, and tools and weapons had to be reinvented.  The old people, with their restrictive prohibitions and traditional knowledge of how things were supposed to be, were all gone, not having the strength to survive privation.  Many of the women and children, at home when the tsunami struck, had drowned or died of injuries, so mostly young men were left—men who had been on hunting or fishing expeditions, who returned to their homes to find them destroyed.  Fighting over the scant food resources and surviving young women may have been the path that led to tribal warfare. 

The men of great mana (prestige), who had lived in favored positions near the coast, were among the first victims.  The craftsmen, the priests, the star navigators, and the shipwrights were annihilated, along with their specialist knowledge.  Many family histories—whakapapa—were stalled, as the elders were not there to recite them anymore.  Without the old shipbuilders, canoes had to be redesigned, and so the double canoe was replaced by the single-hulled canoe.  Voyages back to Raiatea became impossible.  Ka kotia te taitapu ki Hawaiki, the people mourned.  The sacred seaway to Raiatea was cut, and the homeland was lost, remembered only in surviving ancient myths.

Three hundred years after the disaster, the Endeavour arrived — with the Tahitian high priest Tupaia on board.  It is little wonder that the people gathered in their hundreds to hear him talk, or that local priests listened raptly to the histories and myths that had been forgotten, and that he now restored.

So, there is anecdotal evidence of giant tsunami, too.   Interestingly, flood myths are found all around the world.  The Flood that was survived by Noah's Ark is one of them.  Another is a myth from one of the indigenous tribes of Taiwan, the Paiwan Gaoshihful.

In ancient times, the world was a broad plain without mountains.  A sever earthquake happened one day and a flood followed.  Almost all living creatures died in this disaster.  A brother and a sister grasped Ljaqulaqulas (long and thin grass with firm roots) so tightly that they were not taken away by the flood.  After the flood receded, many huge earthworms proliferated.  The excrement of these earthworms hardened and formed mountains everywhere.

(from Literary History of Taiwanese Indigenous Peoples, by Pauya Poiconu).

And there is another from Tahiti:

Tahiti was destroyed by the sea. Even the trees and stones were carried away by the wind. But two people were saved. The wife took up her young chicken, her young dog, and her kitten, and the husband took up his young pig. The husband said they should escape to Mount Orofena, but the wife said (correctly) that the flood would reach even there, and they should go to Mount Pita-hiti instead, which they did. They watched ten nights till the sea ebbed. The land, though, remained without produce, and the fish in the rock crevices were putrid. When the wind died away, stones and trees began to fall from the heavens, where the winds had carried them. To escape this new danger, the couple dug a hole, lined it with grass, and covered it over with stones and earth. They crept inside and listened to the terrible crash of the falling stones. By and by, the falling stones stopped, but to be safe they waited another night before coming out. The land they found was desolated. The woman brought forth two children, a son and a daughter, but grieved about the lack of food. Again the mother brought forth, but still there was no food. Then in three days all the trees bore fruit. All people are descended from that couple. 

(originally recorded in, Frazer, Sir James G. The Golden Bough, Wordsworth Editions Ltd., Hertfordshire, 1993.)

And so forth and so, all around the world, more evidence of huge flood waves.

You can read them in this collection by Mark Isaak 

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