Long before Captain James Cook explored the South Pacific and completed the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand, seafaring Polynesian people crossed incredible distances to colonize Samoa and New Zealand. How they managed to cross these vast distances has remained a bit of a mystery for researchers.
Well, a 600-year-old canoe discovered in New Zealand is clearing up some of that mystery. According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the canoe is just one of two canoes dating back to this time period. Initially discovered in 2012 near the Anaweka estuary, the canoe measures just under 20 feet and is described as “complex and robust composite canoe, carved from a single timber,” by study authors.
Canoes dated to this time period rarely survive the trip of time. Wood decays rapidly, but the environment the canoe was found helped preserve it. Researchers believe the canoe, known as a waka, was at least 45 feet long when it was whole.
Check out the sea turtle carved on the boat in the image above. That symbol isn’t typically found in pre-European culture of New Zealand, but is throughout Polynesia.
While one study looked at the canoe, another looked at the wind patterns. Researchers had assumed early settlers of New Zealand sailed for thousands of miles from East Polynesia against the wind. What the new study found blew that notion away. The study authors looked at climate patterns in the South Pacific between year 800 and 1600 and found several times where trade winds toward New Zealand strengthened. Specifically, between 1140 and 1260 from East Polynesia to New Zealand and to Easter Island from 1250 to 1280.