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.

Leave a comment


  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.

  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.

  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.
    Shouldn’t have been too hard to figure out that there must be forest somewhere to the SW.

    • 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.

      • 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.

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

        • Duker

           /  7th April 2019

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

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  7th April 2019

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

            • 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.


  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.

  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.


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