Tuesday, September 30, 2014

600-Year-Old Canoe Found in New Zealand, Last Major Landmass Settled By Humans

600-Year-Old Canoe Discovered in New Zealand
New Zealand was one of the last major landmasses settled by humans. Radiocarbon dating, evidence of deforestation and mitochondrial DNA variability within Māoripopulations suggest New Zealand was first settled by Eastern Polynesians between 1250 and 1300... Dutch explorer Abel Tasman sighted New Zealand in 1642 and called it Staten Landt, supposing it was connected to a landmass of the same name at the southern tip of South America. In 1645 Dutch cartographers renamed the land Nova Zeelandia after the Dutch province of Zeeland. British explorer James Cook subsequently anglicised the name to New Zealand.  In 1893 the country became the first nation in the world to grant all women the right to vote and in 1894 pioneered the adoption of compulsory arbitration between employers and unions
600-Year-Old Canoe Discovered in New Zealand
By Amina Khan
Centuries before Captain Cook explored the South Pacific, Polynesian seafarers in canoes crossed vast swaths of water to colonize lonely islands from Samoa and New Zealand all the way to Hawaii. But how they managed such a feat remains something of a mystery.Now, a roughly 600-year-old canoe discovered in New Zealand may shed some light on the Polynesians' sailing technology. The vessel, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is one of just two canoes dating back to such an early time period. A second paper in the same journal finds that shifting ancient wind patterns may have created ideal windows of opportunity for certain generations of sailing Polynesians.
The preserved canoe remains were discovered in 2012 on New Zealand's South Island near the Anaweka estuary, pulled from a sand dune some time after a major storm. The 19.95-foot-long section of hull is part of what the authors call a "complex and robust composite canoe, carved from a single timber."
Few such vessels have lasted long enough to be found, because wood is organic matter and decays quickly. But the swampy, oxygen-poor spot it was buried in allowed the canoe to survive the centuries, researchers said. And the shape of it turned out to be very unlike the boats that early European explorers had described.
"It was one of those situations where it sort of took your breath away," said lead author Dilys Amanda Johns, a senior research fellow at the University of Auckland. "I'd never seen anything like it."
Using radiocarbon dating, the team found that the canoe was last caulked around AD 1400. The canoe, known as a waka, was probably at least 45.9 feet long when it was whole, Johns said.
The image of a sea turtle is carved into the hull -- a symbol that's rarely found in the Maori culture of New Zealand but that featured widely in art, myths and ritual throughout Polynesia. (Sea turtles were held in high regard, known -- perhaps fittingly -- for their long voyages through open ocean.)
"A sea turtle on a 600-[year]-old Polynesian canoe is a unique and powerful symbol," the study authors wrote.
A few features, including four transverse ribs carved into the hull, haven't been known historically in New Zealand, but have been featured in canoes in the Southern Cook Islands, described in 1913. The New Zealand canoe also shares some design elements with a canoe found about 30 years ago on Huahine in the Society Islands. It's thought to be from around the same time period as the New Zealand canoe, even though it was discovered roughly 2,500 miles away. The canoes "could have come from the same design tradition," the authors wrote. Clearly, the Polynesians knew how to get around.(continued...)

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