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Polynesians discovered Antarctica over 1,300 years ago, new research finds

A Maori sculpture with the Ross Ice Shelf in the background.

A Maori sculpture with the Ross Ice Shelf in the background.
Picture: A short scan of Maori voyages to Antarctica / Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand

A review of literary and oral history suggests that Polynesians, not Europeans, were the first to explore Antarctic waters and maybe even spot the frozen continent itself.

European explorers are generally credited with discovering Antarctica 200 years ago, but new research published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand reminds us of a neglected account in which Polynesians are described as navigating Antarctic waters in the 7th century CE.

This may be news to a lot of people, but it is “a known story”, as Priscilla Wehi, principal investigator of the new study and conservation biologist at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, Told the New Zealand Herald. That the Polynesians were able to visit the waters of Antarctica so long ago will hardly be a revelation to the IMaori natives of New Zealand, as their legends mention this story.

Indeed, the links between meIndigenous peoples and Antarctica “remain poorly documented and recognized in the scientific literature,” as the scientists write in their study, adding that the new “document is starting to fill this gap.”

To this end, the team, which included researchers from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (a group representing the Maori people of the southern islands of New Zealand), analyzed literary accounts, oral history, as well as representations made on carvings and weavings, to “” build a richer and more inclusive image of Antarctica’s relationship with humanity, “as Wehi explained in a commentary. Press release. In doing so, the team sought to create a “platform on which much broader conversations about New Zealand’s relations with Antarctica can be deepened,” she added.

A Russian expedition of 1820 is conventionally credited with being the first to spot Antarctica, but Ithe indigenous accounts describe another story, in which the Polynesian chief Hui Te Rangiora and his crew, sailing the ship The bone of the distance, traveled in Antarctic waters 1,320 years ago. The ship is described as venturing far south, and in doing so, its crew were “possibly the first human to lay eyes on Antarctic waters and possibly the mainland,” according to the newspaper.

Native legends mention a “frozen sea” and a “dark place that the sun cannot see”. Hui Te Rangiora called this part of the Southern Ocean Tai-uka-a-pia, meaning “the sea foaming like arrowroot,” in which he probably compared the powdered white arrowroot to icebergs. Incredibly, The bone of the distance may have ventured as far south as the Ross Ice Shelf.

Maori carvings and weavings also note this history and the cultural connection to Antarctica, including inscriptions of knowledge of navigation and astronomy. A carved pole depicts Tamarereti, a legendary Maori warrior, as the “protector of the southern oceans” as he “stands at the southern tip of the South Island of New Zealand at Bluff,” as explained Wehi in the Release. To which she added, “Ngāi Tahu, the largest tribal group on the South Island, and other tribal or iwi groups also cherish other oral repositories of knowledge relating to these early explorers and travelers.

As the new document also points out, the voyages of indigenous peoples to Antarctic waters continue to this day. Unfortunately, this is “rarely recognized or highlighted,” Wehi said. For example, In 2016, an expedition including Ngahuia Mita of the Te Tai Rāwhiti people went there to study the effects of climate change on the ice caps, and in 2014-2015 Ngahuia Mita of the Te Tai Rāwhiti people researched Adélie penguins in Antarctica .

That the Polynesians were the first to travel so far south and perhaps even glimpse Antarctica itself shouldn’t be too, ggiven their long maritime history. The new document, by presenting these cultural accounts, should encourage further research. Unfortunately, a Eurocentric view of science and history has long meant that the achthat is to sayandments from other cultures are buried and pushed aside.

If you find this interesting, you’ll want to check it out research from last year which offered proof that INative South Americans could have achieved South Pacific Islands some 300 years before Europeans landed in the Americas.

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