Shipwreck timbers add to mounting evidence that explorers visited New Zealand, Australia, much earlier than generally accepted
Timbers from a shipwreck found in New Zealand have been dated to some 70 years before Captain Cook ‘discovered’ the islands in 1769. Source: Supplied
TIMBERS from a shipwreck in New Zealand have been dated to some 70 years before Captain Cook and is just the latest in a string of finds showing ancient seafarers explored our great southern lands – but never returned.
The timbers, from a wreck found in New Zealand’s Kaipara Harbor on the North Island, have been identified as having originated in Southeast Asia as early as 1700.
Captain Cook’s Endeavour encountered New Zealand in 1769.
The find comes just weeks after it was revealed a small canon found on a remote Northern Territory beach likely originated in Portugal before being lost by Indonesian seafarers some time about 1760.
Cook first sighted Australia on May 6, 1770.
Christopher Doukas, 13, found a cannon buried in the sand on Dundee Beach while on a family outing. Source: Supplied
Australian historians believe that Dutch explorer Willem Janszoon was the first European to have reached Australia in 1606, closely followed by fellow Dutch seafarer Dirk Hartog.
Legend surrounds what may be an early shipwreck in Armstrong Bay in southwest Victoria. Known as the “Mahogany Ship”, speculation identifies it as a Portuguese caravel. Attempts to relocate the wreck have since failed.
But no such mystery surrounds the location of the wreck in New Zealand.
The University of Auckland’s Dr Jonathan Palmer, who used tree-ring techniques to date the ship’s timbers, is calling for a full excavation of the wreck now buried under some 10 meters of sand.
Dr Palmer told TVNZ his first reaction at seeing the dating results was “Good God, this could be really important It really needs excavation. It needs to be an eminent archaeologist”.
The ship was discovered in 1982 by a local mussel fisherman. The wood he salvaged was later identified as the tropical hardwood Lagerstroemia.
It has only recently been further analysed.
Several 1000-year-old copper coins from Kilwa Sultanate, East Africa, have been found on an island off the coast of the Northern Territory. Source: Supplied
Palmer cites Captain Cook’s log books as reporting Maori traditions of earlier shipwrecks as further evidence such a dig would be worthwhile.
Cook recited an account by local Maori of “earlier encounters with Europeans, with the ships having been wrecked and the survivors killed and eaten”.
The exact position of the wreck has been pinpointed through use of a magnetometer survey. While buried in sand, the sand bank itself is no longer under water.
The 107cm bronze swivel cannon found at Dundee Beach southwest of Darwin in 2010 was recently determined to have sat on the seabed for some 250 years.
Teen Christopher Doukas found the light artillery piece buried in the sand during an unusually low tide in 2010.
Christopher Doukas and the cannon he found. Source: Supplied
“The cannon is one of the most significant historical artefacts ever found in Northern Australia,” geomorphologist Dr Tim Stone of archaeological group Past Masters told AAP.
An Indonesian vessel could have been blown off course and on to Australian shores, he said, and the gun find could represent one such incident.
Metal analysis tests are being undertaken in Australia and North America to try to determine the source of the bronze used to cast the gun.
The cannon isn’t the only indication of such an event.
Five 1000-year old coins from the ancient African kingdom of Kilwa were recently identified after being found in the Northern Territory in 1944.