The discovery of a wooden canoe made hundreds of years ago paired with an analysis of climate over a period of eight centuries has given hints on how Polynesian seafarers colonized New Zealand and other Pacific Islands, an event that has puzzled scholars for a long time.
Researchers have long been baffled on how Polynesian seafarers managed to colonize Pacific Islands, particularly how they have crossed thousands of miles of open water braving winds to land on the tiny islands. Two new studies provide plausible explanations on how this happened.
A 600-year old canoe found in New Zealand may have been used in the early settlers' sea voyages. Researchers said that the vessel, which appeared to have made its last voyage in 1400, is more impressive compared with other canoes associated with the period.
Dilys Johns, from the University of Auckland, New Zealand and colleagues, who described the archeological find in the journal PNAS on Sept. 29, said that the hull possibly used to have a twin and these vessels could have formed a double canoe, which likely had a shelter, deck and a sail.
"Sailing canoe recently discovered on the New Zealand coast provides an opportunity to study maritime technology directly associated with the colonization of East Polynesia," the researchers wrote. "The canoe is contemporary with early archaeological settlements around New Zealand and on-going voyaging between Polynesian islands."
A second study further showed how the early settlers managed to traversed vast spans of open water with canoes. Based on current wind patterns, researchers assumed that the early settlers had to sail thousands of miles against the direction of the wind, which could pose problems.
By reconstructing the climate patterns in the South Pacific for the period between 800 and 1600, however, researchers have found decades-long shifts in the climate that would have made sailing by canoe in its basic form possible.
"We show that the sailing canoe in its basic form would have been able to make these voyages purely through downwind sailing," said Ian Goodwin, from the Macquarie University in Sydney, who led the study published on Sept. 29.
Goodwin said that with such favorable wind conditions, the trip to New Zealand could have been made in as little as 10 days, which would otherwise take three times longer.
"Our point is that the climatic evidence suggests that an upwind capability was not necessary for exploration and colonisation of the remote East Polynesian islands (New Zealand and Easter Island) during these periods," Goodwin and colleagues said.