Polynesians and Australia (and more)

Polynesians were seafarers, travelling all over the Pacific, including to New Zealand. While winds may have made it easier to go east, they also came south to Aotearoa. There’s no reason why that won’t have also gone back westward.

Scott Hamilton emailed:

I liked the way you discussed ancient Pacific history on your blog recently. I’m not criticising what you said per se, but I’ve queried your suggestion that Aboriginal Australia and Aotearoa had no contact before about 1788, in light of some intriguing bits of evidence.

Scott pointed me to a Twitter thread:

In a recent post to his popular yournz blog, Pete George said that Polynesians never visited Australia, & never encountered Aboriginal cultures. George’s claim reflects received opinion, but there are some neglected pieces of evidence that suggest it is wrong.

What I said in Why wasn’t New Zealand inhabited by humans earlier? was “Aborigine history is fascinating, but appears to be unrelated to Aotearoa history until Cook’s voyage in 1788.” My knowledge of this is actually quite scant.

Scott’s thread continues:


We tend to think of the Polynesians sailing east, because of the explosion of voyages out of their Tongan & Samoan heartland fifteen hundred years ago. We know now their vaka made it all the way to the Americas. But Polynesians also went west – much further west than Australia.

Obsidian from Tuhua Island, in the Bay of Plenty, has been found in the Kermadecs, proving that early settlers of Aotearoa journeyed north, toward their ancestral homelands. Norfolk Island’s soil has given up numerous Polynesian artefacts, including adzes.

While the finds in the Kermadecs & on Norfolk are well-known, very little publicity has ever attached itself to the discovery of a Polynesian adze on the coast of New South Wales in 1929. The adze sat forgotten for decades, but was recently analysed by three Australian scholars.

The Australian scholars found that the adze from NSW bore many similarities to artefacts found on Norfolk. They decided that it is likely a relic of a Polynesian journey from Norfolk to the continent: A Norfolk Island basalt adze from coastal New South Wales:

No scholar, let alone team of scholars, has ever systematically investigated the possibility that Polynesians visited Australia. Those artefacts that hint at such a visit, like the NSW adze & a fragment of pounamu that turned up in Tasmania, were found by chance.

There are hints that Polynesians not only visited Australia but made return journeys east. In 1993 a team of Japanese archaeologists made an astonishing but little-reported discovery on Pukapuka, the northernmost island of the Cooks. They dug up the bones of a dingo.

The dingo is native to Australia. It has a cousin in Papua New Guinea, but is related only very distantly & indirectly to the Polynesian dog. If a dingo was present on the Polynesian island of Pukapuka centuries ago, then it would have had to have come from Australia.

To be fair, at least one scholars disputes whether the creature unearthed on Pukapuka really was a dingo. Geoffrey Clark feels it may have been some variation on a Polynesian dog – Prehistoric contact between Australia and Polynesia: the Pukapuka dog re‐examined

But the Pukapuka dingo is not the only piece of evidence for return voyages by Polynesians from Oz. In 1925 a man fossicking amongst midden-dunes on Muriwai beach discovered a boomerang. His discovery was reported in the Journal of the Polynesian Society the next year.

(Could this have floated across the Tasman? PG)

If Polynesians visited & even settled in Australia, then it might be possible to find traces of their presence in the stories & imagery of coastal Aboriginal peoples. The Muslim fishermen who visited Arnhem land for centuries left many reminders: Indigenous Australia’s long history with Islam

 

There’s another model for tracing ancient Polynesian contacts with Australia. Over the past decade or so scholars have found convincing evidence that Polynesians visited California, by probing the vocabulary & aquatechnology of the Chumash people, who live around Santa Barbara.

 

 

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20 Comments

  1. Corky

     /  18th January 2019

    Seems the more we discover the less we know.

    ‘Obsidian from Tuhua ( Mayor) Island, in the Bay of Plenty.”

    I have a big chunk of this rock from Mayor Island. It’s very impressive in colour and texture.
    How though, would they know Obsidian found in the Kermadecs came from Mayor Island?

    As a coincident I have just given away 3 large boxes of the Journal of the Polynesian Society . A very hardcore academic publication.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  18th January 2019

      People have been told not to take obsidian from Mayor Island for many years, so if you really do have some, it would be a good idea to return it. The local Maori take a very dim view of people helping themselves to this treasure, and I don’t blame them. They have asked that any that was taken be returned.

      Yes, that IS a coincidence about the journal.

      Reply
    • Duker

       /  18th January 2019

      “Obsidian found in the Kermadecs came from Mayor Island?”

      Chemical signature of volcanic rocks can be very distinctive and be compared with other rocks actually at the island.
      Theres other source from around Taupo, with outcrops near Kinloch

      Reply
      • Corky

         /  18th January 2019

        Thanks for that, Duker. My legally taken Obsidian can produce shards of rock with the sharpness of a scalpel.

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  18th January 2019

          It’s not actually illegal to take it, but it’s tapu as a taonga of the local Maori, and people who take it tend to wish that they hadn’t. They can’t stop people taking it, of course, but as it’s been declared off-limits for so many years, I am surprised that anyone would still do this, especially as it’s breaking a tapu.

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  18th January 2019

            I see that it is certainly considered to be theft. unless one is an owner of the island.

            Reply
          • Corky

             /  18th January 2019

            I was moderated replying to you. Enough to say it’s not tapu for me.

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  18th January 2019

              The island’s owners have said that it’s tapu, and I took their word for it.

            • Corky

               /  18th January 2019

              I am tangata whenua. Last time I looked ( things may have changed with more focus now on the Mount ) some of Mayor Island is leased out to private and government concerns.

              You may have noticed I use the name ”Mayor Island.” Depending on individual Maori both names are used.Of course that isn’t PC nowdays.

              My rock was taken from the Island roughly 60 years ago.

              The rock is prized in magic as a vacuum for negative energy.

              Apparently Red Indians also liked Obsidian.

              https://www.geothermal-energy.org/pdf/IGAstandard/WGC/2005/02p04.df

  2. Blazer

     /  18th January 2019

    The Thai Dingo is taxonomically identical to the Australian Dingo.However there are differences between both the Thai and Australian Dingo.

    THAI DINGOES

    The Thai Dingo has shorter hair, and also tends to have black and ginger color variations in coat coloring.

    Their behavior is also different and they seem to have adapted to living with people as pets.They also live as free-ranging dogs in urban areas.They are viewed by many as unexceptional mongrel dogs. In Australia they are viewed as wild animals, and are distinctly different from domesticated dogs.There are also domesticated dingoes in Australia, and many have been succesfully interbred with the domesticated dog.Often times in Asia the Thai Dingo is carefully bred with the Thai Ridgeback.’

    Reply
  3. thespectrum

     /  18th January 2019

    New Zealand is to be officially recognized as the 7th state of Australia in 2050.

    Reply
  4. Duker

     /  18th January 2019

    “In 1925 a man fossicking amongst midden-dunes on Muriwai beach discovered a boomerang.”

    Ah yes , the boomerang made from a NZ timber.
    “The wood, no doubt much altered by exposure and weathering, is light and comparatively soft. At first glance the graining suggests kauri as the component timber but botanical opinion suggests tawhero, a common northern timber tree. Whatever the wood is it is certainly not a hardwood such as Eucalyptus.”

    “It may also be suggested that the boomerang drifted across from the Australian coast, but nearly all Australian boomerangs being made of dense, non-floating wood, this possibility is to be discounted.
    http://www.jps.auckland.ac.nz/document//Volume_35_1926/Volume_35%2C_No._137/Boomerang_found_at_Muriwai_beach%2C_Auckland%2C_by_H._Hamilton%2C_p_45-46/p1

    Its like the rest of these ‘finds’ listed , not evidence of anything at all.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  18th January 2019

      I found a seasnail fossil down the road, but that doesn’t prove that the sea came as far inland as where I live.

      Reply
      • thespectrum

         /  19th January 2019

        The sea would not have come inland Kitty. The land was submerged then raised up 🙂

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  19th January 2019

          Well spotted ! I wondered if you’d notice that 😀

          (hurries away before Trum makes the obvious response)

          Reply
  5. Gezza

     /  18th January 2019

    These finds are all quite intriguing & one wonders what other occasional finds might raise more interesting academic questions about early occasional possibly lost seafarers or one-trip explorers, or any other sources of unusual very old objects – but of most importance to me is who actually settled the country permanently in numbers throughout its history & have remained to populate it.

    Reply
  6. scooter74

     /  18th January 2019

    ‘Its like the rest of these ‘finds’ listed , not evidence of anything at all’

    I’m being a bit romantic when I cited the dingo bones on Pukapuka and the boomerang at Muriwai, but I think the Tuhua obsidian on the Kermadecs, the Polynesian settlement on Norfolk, and the Polynesian adze at NSW are fairly firmly established pieces of evidence.

    They join the kuri bones and artefacts on the Auckland Islands, the remote Polynesian colonies in the Micronesian islands of Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi, the Polynesian chicken bones and adzes on Mocha Island, off Chile, and the eerie remnants of a settlement on super-isolated Henderson Island as proof of how daring and successful the Polynesian seafarers were. And yet there are still many mysteries to solve, as we try to retrace their journeys…

    Reply
  7. scooter74

     /  18th January 2019

    Perhaps the biggest mystery, and one that is pertinent to the question – ‘why wasn’t NZ settled earlier?’ – that PG was trying to answer in his original post, is the ‘long pause’ that occurred between the settlement of what became the Polynesian heartland of Tonga-Samoa nearly 4,000 years ago, and the explosion of voyages to eastern and outlier Polynesia that began about 1,500 years ago. Why this delay? This question is asked most famously, of course, by the movie Moana.

    There are many attempted explanations for the long pause – some scholars say changes in climate opened a window for voyages to hitherto unreachable destinations, others suggest that a second migration of Austronesians arrived in heartland Polynesia about 1,500 years ago, and energised its inhabitants, others claim that islands in the heartland had reached a state of environmental exhaustion by that time, and others point, just like the makers of Moana, to cultural and political rather than environmental factors.

    Reply

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