A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2007 Oct 30, 14:30 +1100
By Deborah Smith Science Editor
October 30, 2007
A STONE tool unearthed on a coral atoll near Tahiti has provided the first hard evidence for the extraordinary seafaring skills of ancient Pacific islanders.
Australian scientists have shown it was carved from volcanic rock from a Hawaiian island 4000 kilometres to the north.
Marshall Weisler, of the University of Queensland, said his research confirmed Hawaiian oral histories that about 1000 years ago the settlers who had arrived in Hawaii from the south were able to make epic canoe trips to and from Tahiti without any navigational instruments.
"This 4000-kilometre journey now stands as the longest uninterrupted maritime voyage in human prehistory," he said.
The woodworking tool, known as an adze, was found in the 1930s by an archaeologist on one of the coral islands of the Tuamotu Archipelago near Tahiti. By analysing the chemical composition of the stone, Dr Weisler and his colleague, Professor Ken Collerson, identified its source as an island near Hawaii that has traditionally been the last stopping point for sailors before heading south.
This kind of adze was not made in Hawaii, he said. "The rock may have been taken as a gift or a memento, as is done today by modern traditional voyagers, or used as ballast, and fashioned into adzes in the Tuamotus."
It is the first Hawaiian object to have been found in east Polynesia, said Dr Weisler, whose study is published in the journal Science.
In the past it had been suggested that the ancient mariners, who had only slim canoes powered by mat sails, first reached the islands of the east Pacific, including Hawaii and Easter Island, by chance, drifting there on currents or carried by storms.
But computer simulations of ocean movements and winds, and experimental voyages, have shown the sailors must have known what they were doing.
"The vast majority of islands would never have been found through drift or accidental voyaging," Dr Weisler said.
The sailors would have navigated by the stars and had extensive knowledge of the weather patterns. They would also have relied on clues such as the driftwood, sea birds and the colour of clouds, he said.
"Very sophisticated knowledge was passed down as part of the oral tradition of a society."
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