Māori may have discovered Antarctica, study suggests

A new study by University of Otago concludes that Mãori the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand, were likely the first people to explore Antarctica and its surrounding oceans stretching back to the seventh century. 

The paper, ‘A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica’ was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand by seven researchers. 

New research suggests Māori may have been the first people to discover Antarctica.  Photo: Silvia Herrero Buxo

The project lead, conservation biologist Dr Wehi, said to RNZ “Māori links with the icy continent went back to the seventh century.”

“Right from the early voyages of Hui Te Rangiora and Tamarereti and others, right through to the 19th century when Māori participated in whaling and other voyages to Antarctica, right through to today, with scientists going down to the ice every year – (there’s) an amazing connection that we didn’t really expect,” Wehi said.

The researchers write that “Polynesian narratives of voyaging between the islands include voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora … and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea, likely in the early seventh century”. According to oral traditions, they named that ocean Te tai-uka-a-pia – the frozen ocean, with “pia” referring to arrowroot, which when scraped looks like snow.

Records of polynesian oral histories from 1899 describe the journey there, recalling“the monstrous seas; the female that dwells in those mountainous waves, whose tresses wave about in the water and on the surface of the sea, the frozen sea of pia, with the deceitful animal of the sea who dives to great depths – a foggy, misty, and dark place not seen by the sun.

“Other things are like rocks, whose summits pierce the skies, they are completely bare and without vegetation on them.” SP Smith, who recorded the oral histories, says that the stories may describe Southern Ocean bull-kelp, marine mammals, and icebergs.

Researchers say, Māori sailor Te Atu is described as the first Māori, as well as the first New Zealander, to view the coast of Antarctica in 1840.



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