Māori artefacts linked to eastern Polynesia

Artefact evidence has further linked Māori to the Tahiti in eastern Polynesia, with three scoria blocks found in the South Island and Stewart Island being found to be unlike New Zealand volcanic rock, and near identical to a volcano on the island of Mehetia, about 100km southeast of Tahiti in French Polynesia.

This adds to what is already known.

The Journey to Aotearoa

Modern scholars tell us that more than 15,000 years ago we lived on the land now called China, and that from there we travelled via Taiwan and the Philippines to Indonesia.

About 6,000 to 9,000 years ago we moved on through Melanesia and reached Fiji about 3,500 years ago. From there to Samoa and on to the Marquesas 2,500 years ago.

Perhaps that was the limit of our eastern migration for it seems that 1,700 years ago we turned South West to Tahiti, thence to the Cook Islands and to Aotearoa/New Zealand

NZ Herald:  Northland scientist finds link to ancient home of Māori

A Northland scientist has for the first time pinpointed the origin of early Māori artefacts found in New Zealand to a precise location in eastern Polynesia.

Dr Ross Ramsay’s discovery further backs up oral history that Māori arrived in New Zealand not by accident but in a deliberate voyage of exploration that began in what is now French Polynesia.

Ramsay, a retired geologist living in Kerikeri, studied three scoria blocks found in archaeological sites at the bottom of the South Island and on a dune on Stewart Island. The sites also contained early Polynesian artefacts and moa remains.

 

The scoria blocks found at Tautuku (South Otago, top), Stewart Island (bottom left) and Kings Rock (The Catlins, right). Photo / Anne Harlow, Otago Museum

Analysis of the blocks’ chemical composition showed they were unlike any volcanic rocks found in New Zealand — but almost identical to a marae stone found on the island of Mehetia, about 100km southeast of Tahiti in French Polynesia, and brought back to Otago Museum in the 1930s.

Karta FP Societe isl.PNG

The blocks are typical of volcanic rocks found around Tahiti but the lack of weathering suggested the scoria was produced by recent volcanic activity. Mehetia is the only volcano to have erupted in that part of the Pacific in the past 1000 years.

Mehetia is a volcanic island about 100km southeast of Tahiti in what is now French Polynesia. Photo / Tahiti Heritage

Based on that evidence Ramsay believed the blocks were marae stones brought to New Zealand by early Polynesian settlers from their ancestral home in the ”Hawaiki zone” and placed at different points of arrival in the southern South Island.

Intriguingly, Tahitian oral history tells of navigators stopping off at the sacred island of Mehetia before embarking on the long journey to New Zealand.

What I don’t think has been answered yet is why waka ventured south west, in contrast to the general migration flow east in the Pacific.

Also, did the waka migration target Aotearoa New Zealand?  It would seem odd if a significant number of people equipped for migration would have just set off in a particular direction with no knowledge of where they were going.

I think that it has to be likely that small scale explorations had been done in advance to confirm that there was significant land here, which would have meant a long voyage of discovery, and a return to Tahiti to deliver the news. It is known that Polynesians were expert navigators, but they would have needed to search a lot of ocean to find Aotearoa.

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19 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  7th April 2019

    Rarotonga (means “down south”) was likely a stopping point on the journey and certainly some canoes left from there.

    Reply
  2. Ray

     /  7th April 2019

    Really amazing stuff, I imagine DNA is going to help show the way.
    What we really need is relics found in Polynesia that definitely originated in NZ to prove what is suspected, that there was two way travel, because like you Peter it beggars belief that a large number of canoes travelled this way without prior knowledge.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  7th April 2019

      It’s just occurred to me to wonder when these blocks of stone arrived here; it could have been any time.

      Reply
      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  7th April 2019

        The blocks were located at Moa-hunter sites – lying at same level as Moa bones and artefacts associated with early Polynesian settlers.
        https://www.nzmuseums.co.nz/collections/3021/objects/969987/volcanic-scoria-block
        https://otagomuseum.nz/blog/wresearcher-insights-q-and-a-with-dr-w-ross-ramsay/

        Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  7th April 2019

          Fairy Nuff.

          My mother and stepfather and I found a piece of stone on a beachthat had obviously been shaped; it was 3D L-shaped. It was obviously very old, but we had no idea how old, of course.To everyone’s surprise, when they showed it to someone, it proved to be extremely old and rare and is now in a museum. What fun to find something like that !

          Reply
      • Dr W R Ramsay

         /  29th January 2020

        I am afraid Kitty that I am less than impressed with your comments.
        These scoria blocks have been found with early Maori material and the implication is that they equate time wise in the stratigraphy with this early material including Dinornis sp., barbed fish hooks, and hog-backed adzes.
        To claim that these blocks could have arrived at any time is less than convincing.

        Yours
        WR Ramsay

        Reply
    • Dr W R Ramsay

       /  29th January 2020

      Hi Ray,
      Saw your comments regarding our work on scoria blocks.
      Yes, we would love to find evidence of NZ material in Tahiti. I understand that a greenstone fragment was found on a beach in Tahiti but that is not that helpful.
      Archaeological context is so very important and that is why two of the scoria blocks are significant. Both were dug out of Maori occupation sites and that alone discounts claims that these blocks may have floated here in tree roots or that they represent sailing ship’s ballast. No sea captain would use pumice as ballast and no sea captain would likewise use scoria which is just a little more dense.

      Thank you for your comments
      Ross Ramsay

      Reply
  3. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  7th April 2019

    What I don’t think has been answered yet is why waka ventured south west,

    Our long-tailed cuckoo overwinters in the Windward Islands and the Marquesas.
    Early Polynesians would have observed the direction the adult birds took off in each spring and the direction the young birds returned from.
    http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/long-tailed-cuckoo
    Shouldn’t have been too hard to figure out that there must be forest somewhere to the SW.

    Reply
    • I wondered if it could be migrating birds. Sounds likely. But it could have resulted in some long journeys – especially if trying to follow the flights of long range migratory birds like godwits.

      Reply
      • Maggy Wassilieff

         /  7th April 2019

        Most of our Northern hemisphere migratory birds don’t fly anywhere near Tahiti-Windwards…
        They go up on the East Asian flyway.
        The Godwits come back via a direct Pacific route… about 3500km west of Tahiti.
        https://teara.govt.nz/en/map/7218/the-east-asian-australasian-flyway

        That’s why the long-tailed cuckoo seems to be the favoured bird that pointed the East Polynesians south-westwards.

        Reply
        • Duker

           /  7th April 2019

          Interesting that the Polynesian people of Tonga didnt follow the birds south

          Reply
          • Kitty Catkin

             /  7th April 2019

            The only problem with following birds would be that one wouldn’t know where they were going.

            Reply
            • Duker

               /  7th April 2019

              It’s called ‘land’ .Everyone would know that birds must lay eggs on land ..somwhere

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  8th April 2019

              Don’t be such a fool. We all know that. But unless the birds obligingly went at the same pace as the boats the people wouldn’t know where the land was.

              You really are disagreeable for the sake of it. You can’t have misunderstood my post, nobody could.

  4. Corky

     /  7th April 2019

    Raiatea Island is usually considered the most sacred of marae. Basalt and coral were the main material used in their construction.

    https://www.tripsavvy.com/marae-the-sacred-sites-of-tahiti-1532901

    Reply
    • Dr W R H Ramsay

       /  29th January 2020

      Hi Corky
      Yes in one way you are correct but we are talking about a time before the main marae building period commenced in or around the 14th C.
      This period was late 1200s or early 1300s.
      Today we may well regard Raiatea as the most sacred marae but how sure can you be 800 years ago? Mehetia was also sacred.

      Warm regards
      Ross Ramsay

      Reply
  5. Alan Wilkinson

     /  7th April 2019

    It’s also puzzling that the stones were found so far south except perhaps that relics further north would have had to survive a far greater population through the centuries. Perhaps they were left by an expedition exploring the southerly extent of the country or even shipwrecked there in bad weather.

    Reply
    • Dr W R Ramsay

       /  29th January 2020

      Hi Alan,
      Yes you are correct. Why aresuch scoria blocks apparently confined to southern NZ?
      I suspect that with time more will be found further north.
      Regards
      W R RAMSAY

      Reply
  6. Michael Wynd

     /  7th April 2019

    The Austronesians, the explorers of the Pacific operated on the basis is sail out and return. They would venture forth from an island in all directions and return if they did not find anything. Upon finding land that was habitable, they would send return voyages. They also made voyages to South America. The impulse for exploration was family based. As one family group settled, the children would go out to seek new land.

    They located Hawaii by this method and New Zealand. The map shows the expansion but the settlement of Australia was by foot and canoe from PNG. The sea level was much lower when the descendents of the Aborigines crossed via the Torres Strait.

    Reply

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