A piece of a 600-year-old Maori canoe is providing New Zealand researchers with valuable insights into the Polynesian exploration of the Pacific in pre-European times.
The 6-meter piece of a canoe, or "waka," was one of only two Polynesian canoes known to predate European contact the other being a waka excavated in the Society Islands, more than 4,000 km away, University of Auckland researcher Dilys Johns said.
The relic was found in 2012 at Anaweka, on the remote northwest end of the South Island, after a storm had scoured out its resting place in a sand dune.
"I had never seen anything as large and complex come out of a site," Johns said in a statement Monday.
The piece was radiocarbon-dated to around 1400 AD, a period of ongoing maritime exploration and inter-island travel, and it included a rare carving of a sea turtle.
Turtle designs were rare in Maori culture and had only been seen before on four prehistoric stone amulets.
Turtles were held in high regard by Polynesian societies, and only high-status people were allowed to eat them. Turtles featured in visual art, myths and rituals and were also able to represent humans or gods.
The waka also featured carved interior ribs together with evidence of repair and re-use, and had structural similarities and a similar age to the Society Islands waka, which was excavated from a waterlogged site 30 years ago.
It was made from New Zealand matai and provided insight into a period of travel and cultural exchanges between the Polynesian islands.