As Hōkūle’a II Sails On, Scientists Find This 600-Year-Old Sailing Canoe off New Zealand to Be Linked to the Polynesians

by Owen James Burke

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(Image via the L.A. TImes)

The 19.95-foot remains of the vessel were found in a sand dune after a major storm had eroded it, which is why it has remained in such good condition. Had it been stuck in the mud, it would have been nothing but a memory today.

After a study (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) scientists are now certain that this 19.95-foot section of hull — which is remarkably intact for organic material of its age — was part of a traditional Polynesian sailing vessel.

The section of a canoe hull found near Anakewa estuary off New Zealand’s south island in 2012 has been carbon-dated back to 600 years ago, quite a few moons before Captain Cook got there. The dating and a sea turtle carving are consistent with the vessels and art the Polynesians used brought wayfaring at the time.

Carved in New Zealand from a single timber, the design of the vessel and the turtle symbol did not match Maori art and craft. The Polynesians, depicted sea turtles widely in their culture, the sea turtle being a symbol held in high regard for its ability to make long journeys across the oceans.

Nearly 600 years later, the Hōkūle’a voyage, which followed traditional Polynesian wayfinding methods of sailing, became the first traditional Polynesian sailing canoe to be built, and today, over 600 years later, these guys are retracing her journey.

Read more on PNAS and the LA Times — OB

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