Polynesians sailed to Antarctica 1000 years before Europeans

Polynesians sailed to Antarctica 1000 years before Europeans
Polynesians sailed to Antarctica 1000 years before Europeans

When we think about Antarctic research, most of the time we are talking about the white race. The first confirmed sighting of the Antarctic mainland was attributed to a Russian expedition in 1820, and the first landing on the mainland is attributed to an American explorer in 1821.

Now new work by New Zealand researchers suggests that the indigenous people of mainland New Zealand - the Maori - have a significantly longer history of familiarity with the southernmost continent of the Earth.

A research team led by biologist Priscilla Vehi of Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research examined oral histories as well as studies, reports, white papers and other materials published in scientific and trade journals.

Researchers first noticed the journey of the Polynesian leader Hui Te Rangior and his team to the south at the beginning of the 7th century. This probably made them the first people to see Antarctic waters, more than a thousand years before the Russian expedition and even long before the supposed resettlement of Polynesian settlers to New Zealand.

Polynesians are a group of kindred peoples inhabiting the islands of Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean.

"In some of the stories, Hui Te Rangiora and his team continued south. Far south. However, they were probably the first people to get into Antarctic waters and possibly the continent," the scientists write.

"The journey and return of Hui Te Rangiora is part of the history of the Ngāti Rārua people, and these stories are reflected in a number of cave paintings."

Maori who have told these legends for generations but scholars have ignored these tales, academic science still has a long way to go to explore this wealth of knowledge.

But the voyage of the Hui Te Rangiora was definitely not the last time Maori and their ancestors traveled to Antarctica.

Te Atu - a member of the Ngapuhi people - is called the first Maori and the first New Zealander to see the coast of Antarctica in 1840 as part of the US Exploration Expedition.

The Maori were also part of the "heroic era of Antarctic exploration" in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, helping European explorers with medicines, building materials, scientific knowledge and more while traveling to Antarctica.

"Maori involvement in Antarctic voyages and expeditions continues to this day, but is rarely acknowledged or highlighted," the researchers write.

Lately, many Maori have taken or are participating in New Zealand's Antarctic science programs, doing research on everything from climate change impacts to penguin ecology, and the team behind this latest work hopes that number will continue to grow.

The study was published in the journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

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