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, 111 (41), 14728-33

An Early Sophisticated East Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Discovered on New Zealand's Coast

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An Early Sophisticated East Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Discovered on New Zealand's Coast

Dilys A Johns et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.

Abstract

The colonization of the islands of East Polynesia was a remarkable episode in the history of human migration and seafaring. We report on an ocean-sailing canoe dating from close to that time. A large section of a complex composite canoe was discovered recently at Anaweka on the New Zealand coast. The canoe dates to approximately A.D. 1400 and was contemporary with continuing interisland voyaging. It was built in New Zealand as an early adaptation to a new environment, and a sea turtle carved on its hull makes symbolic connections with wider Polynesian culture and art. We describe the find and identify and radiocarbon date the construction materials. We present a reconstruction of the whole canoe and compare it to another early canoe previously discovered in the Society Islands.

Keywords: Maori; conservation; maritime archaeology; waterlogged wood.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
The waterlogged canoe section was found just north of the narrow entrance to Anaweka Inlet on the northwestern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The figure shows locations of archaeological habitation sites recorded in the immediate vicinity. Sites contemporary with the waka are also known both north and south of the find spot. The foundation site of Wairau Bar, dating from the early 14th century A.D., is located on the northeastern coast of the South Island.
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
An internal view of the hull showing the pointed end and butt end, and lashing holes for attachment of other timbers on all sides. Four transverse ribs are carved at intervals along the hull and a straight longitudinal stringer or girder runs from the rib at the butt end along the length of the hull. The ribs are tapered from the stringer toward both sides of the piece but are heavier on the side with the curved profile, suggesting this was the lower side of the canoe. The stringer has both notches and lashing holes for attachment of other parts of the hull. Sections of the stringer have been broken, and replacement notches and lashing holes cut into the hull indicate repairs and reuse.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
(A) A sea turtle is carved in raised relief at the shaped end of the canoe strake and a ridge behind it extends to the end of the strake. If the ridge represents the pattern formed as the turtle swam although water, it provides a clue as to the direction of movement. 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. (B) Detail of the sea turtle.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Calibrated radiocarbon dates (Oxcal) of samples of the canoe hull (wood) and caulking (fiber).
Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.
Scanned images of inside and outside surfaces of the Anaweka canoe section are shown in the left side of this four-part digital reconstruction, and their mirror images on the right, giving an impression of an entire hull in two or possibly three sections. In this orientation the canoe lacks a central underbody and upper strakes or gunwales. The curved edge of the shaped end lies approximately vertical and timbers separating the sides at both ends would have been necessary to avoid a line of lashings along the angle of the keel, unknown ethnohistorically.
Fig. 6.
Fig. 6.
A reconstruction of the complete Anaweka canoe by G. Irwin, based on the details of the hull section interpreted in the context of documentary and distributional evidence discussed in the paper. It is represented as a double canoe, but the possibility that it was a single canoe with outrigger cannot be excluded. No remains of a sail or spars were found at Anaweka, but various rigs with two spars and inverted triangular sails were recorded in early sketches by Europeans in Tahiti, Hawaii, the Marquesas, and New Zealand, before 1780 (48). It is likely that the whole rig was put up and taken down as one, as with Maori sails in historical times, and the rig could have been set up in different ways according to the direction of the canoe in relation to the wind.

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