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A New Zealand study shows Maori connections with Antarctica since the 7th century



Maori travel to the southernmost continent may date back to the 7th century – long before Europeans made their way there in the early 19th century, according to a study published this week in the Royal Society of New Zealand.

The first confirmed sighting of mainland Antarctica has long been attributed to a Russian expedition in 1820, and the first record of a man stepping on Antarctica is attributed to an American explorer in 1821.

But Polynesian navigators’ excursions into Antarctic waters date back to about 1320 years ago – a rich history overshadowed by European studies, the study said.

“We find that Polynesian stories of voyages between the islands include a voyage in Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the ship Te Ivi O Atea, probably in the early 7th century,”

; said Priscilla Wehi, lead researcher and conservation biologist.

The research is based on oral traditions and stories shared in the Maori community and on Maori carvings, which researchers say depict travel as well as navigational and astronomical knowledge.

Researchers have also found a large amount of existing “gray literature” – research done outside of traditional academic and commercial channels that has not been properly researched.

“When you put it together, it’s really clear there’s a very long history of connection to Antarctica,” Wehi said. “Maori is involved in many different roles and in many different ways in relation to Antarctica.”

Maori wood carvings from New Zealand, which traditionally depict astronomical and navigational knowledge.

The study raises common prejudices about Maori knowledge of Antarctica, both past and present, said co-author Billy van Witregt.

“Many Maori work in Antarctica as researchers involved in New Zealand’s fishing vessels in the Southern Ocean,” he said. “Many Maori have this kind of living and physical experience of Antarctic land and seascapes.”

According to Wehi, looking at the past from different perspectives shows that history is “multidimensional.”

“The contribution of many under-represented groups, from indigenous peoples to women, is becoming visible – and this is certainly the case with the history of Antarctica,” she said.


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