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Maori discovered Antarctica before Westerners

Researchers point to a trip made by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the ship Te Ivi O Atea, at the beginning of the 7th century

Tradition points to a Russian expedition in 1820 as the first to sight the frozen continent

The study draws on the oral and narrative traditions shared within the Maori community

For decades, historians and scientists have believed that Antarctica was first discovered by Europeans and Americans. But according to a new study, it is possible that they were the indigenous Maori of New Zealand who first observed the frozen landscape, more than 1,300 years ago.

Maori travels to the southernmost continent may have dated back to the 7th century, long before Europeans got there in the early 1800s, according to research published this week in the ‘Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand’.

First sightings

The first confirmed sighting of continental Antarctica has been associated for centuries with the Russian expedition of Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev in 1820. The first record of a person who set foot in Antarctica It is attributed – although the fact debated in the scientific community – to the American captain John Davis in 2021.

But the excursions of Polynesian sailors to Antarctic waters would date back some 1,320 years, a history that would have been overshadowed by that of European exploration, according to the study. “The Polynesian narratives about their explorations between the islands include a trip to Antarctic waters, conducted by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the ship Te Ivi O Atea, probably at the beginning of the 7th century, “explains lead researcher and biologist Priscilla Wehi.

The study is based on oral and narrative traditions shared within the Maori community, and in indigenous carvings, which researchers say represent both travelers and astronomy and navigation wisdom.

“Gray literature”

The researchers also found a large amount of “gray literature” – information shared outside of traditional academic and business channels – that had not been adequately scrutinized.
“When you put it all together, it is very clear, there is a very long history of connection with Antarctica”Wehi points out.

The study challenges commonly held ideas about Maori knowledge about Antarctica, both past and present, adds co-author Billy van Uitregt. “There are many Maori working in Antarctica as researchers, working on New Zealand fishing boats in the Southern Ocean, “he stresses.” Many Maori have this kind of lived and physical experience of the Antarctic landscapes and seascapes. ”

According to Wehi, looking at the past through different perspectives shows that History is “multidimensional”. “The contribution of many underrepresented groups, from indigenous peoples to women, becomes visible, and that is certainly the case in the history of Antarctica,” he concludes.

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