Study: Early seafarers likely used El Nino and other climate patterns to explore the Pacific


Early Pacific seafarers likely latched onto El Nino and other climate patterns

Researchers from 3 universities employed computer simulations and climatic data to help them explore the travels that led to the settlement of islands in Remote Oceania

Map provides a synthesis of results from computer simulations and climatic data that were used to analyze ocean routes across the Pacific Ocean showing viable ocean crossings, weather patterns, seasonal variations and other factors in Remote Oceania. CREDIT Courtesy of Scott Fitzpatrick

Map provides a synthesis of results from computer simulations and climatic data that were used to analyze ocean routes across the Pacific Ocean showing viable ocean crossings, weather patterns, seasonal variations and other factors in Remote Oceania. CREDIT Courtesy of Scott Fitzpatrick

EUGENE, Ore. — Oct. 28, 2016 — The colonization of far-flung Remote Oceania some 3,400 years ago was one of the most ambitious and expansive population dispersals in human history.

Seafarers traveled thousands of miles of ocean, navigating by stars and overcoming currents and difficult weather to arrive in a region that includes present-day Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, Micronesia and Fiji.

Now research by a three-member team provides new insights into how these early travelers came to travel the Pacific Ocean and populate one of the most remote regions on Earth.

“Where did these people come from? How did they get to these really remote places, and what were the factors, culturally, technologically and politically that led to these population dispersals?” said co-author Scott Fitzpatrick, an anthropologist at the University of Oregon. “These are really big questions for Pacific archaeology and other related disciplines.”

Fitzpatrick and his team, which includes Ohio State University geographer Alvaro Montenegro, the paper’s corresponding author, and University of Calgary archaeologist Richard Callaghan, offer some potential answers in a paper published Oct. 24 in the online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The paper, “Using Seafaring Simulations and ‘Shortest Hop’ Trajectories to Model the Prehistoric Colonization of Remote Oceania,” details the team’s use of computer simulations and climatic data to analyze ocean routes across the Pacific. The simulations take into account high-resolution data for winds, ocean currents, land distribution and precipitation.

“We synthesized a lot of new climatic data and ran a lot of new simulations that are exciting in terms of highlighting and pinpointing where some of these prehistoric populations might have come from,” Fitzpatrick said. “The simulation can assess, at any point in time, if somebody left point A, where would they end up if they drifted? We can also model directed voyages. If somebody knew where they were going, how long would it take them to get there?”

Fitzpatrick and his colleagues used their simulations to identify most likely ports of departure for the settlers of five major regions in Remote Oceania. To account for course variations due to wind and currents, the team created “shortest hop” trajectories to assess the likely paths of least resistance. This technique factors in the role that distance and remoteness may have played in facilitating voyaging from one island to another, and can include changes in sea level at different points in time that may have made these trips easier or harder.

Seafaring models have been developed and used by other researchers in the past, Fitzpatrick said, but they weren’t able to fully harness the high-resolution satellite data sets that have only recently been made available to scientists.

The research team’s simulations include El Nino Southern Oscillation patterns, which settlers most likely knew about and used to their advantage, Fitzpatrick said. Archaeological records reflect El Nino occurrences, which typically happen every three to seven years, and can be seen in evidence marking droughts and fires. Because winds and associated precipitation shift from westerly to easterly during El Nino years, settlers would have found travel toward Remote Oceania more favorable when the pattern was occurring and may have timed their departures accordingly.

“What Pacific scholars have long surmised but never really been able to establish very well is that, through time, Pacific Islanders should have developed a great deal of knowledge of different climactic variations, different oscillations of wind and changes in environments that would have influenced their survivability and their abilities to go to certain places,” Fitzpatrick said.

The analysis provides insights about the origins of the early seafarers. The settlers of western Micronesia probably came from near the Maluku (Spice) Islands. Some of the team’s findings challenge current archaeological theories, while other data support existing lines of evidence. The research suggests Samoa was the most likely staging area for colonizing East Polynesia. It also indicates that Hawaii and New Zealand may have been settled from the Marquesas or Society Islands. Easter Island may have been settled from the Marquesas or Mangareva.

The new paper also highlights areas worthy of further research. It suggests that Samoa may have been an epicenter for colonization and challenges data that links the Philippines as a potential point of departure for the settlement of Micronesia.

Each team member brought complementary expertise to the study. Fitzpatrick contributed his knowledge of the archaeology of island and coastal regions in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Montenegro, the paper’s lead author, is a geographer and climatologist. Callaghan is an archaeologist specializing in seafaring simulations.

A question that may never be resolved is why seafaring settlers traveled such immense distances. Although there’s evidence that some settlers were motivated by a desire to obtain new resources such as basalt or obsidian for making stone tools, Fitzpatrick said, there’s no easy way to explain the leap of faith it would take to set off on a colonizing mission of 400 to 2,500 miles.

“What drove the movement? That’s the big question,” he said. “Was it political? Was it a result of population pressure? There were probably multiple reasons why people decided to leave one place and go to another.”

The paper:


95 thoughts on “Study: Early seafarers likely used El Nino and other climate patterns to explore the Pacific

  1. I wonder if DNA of native populations from point of departure and those now living in
    supposed landing area could provide auxillery evidence of who went where.

    • I don’t know if there is enough variation between the people of the various island groups for such a study.
      Not to mention the possibility (probability?) of contact with the inevitable sharing of genes) between the various islands in the 3400 years since.

      • How about 12,600 year old DNA?

        Ancient baby DNA discovered in Montana yields new clues to earliest Americans
        The DNA of a baby boy who was buried in Montana 12,600 years ago has been recovered, and it provides new indications of the ancient roots of today’s American Indians and other native peoples of the Americas.
        It’s the oldest genome ever recovered from the New World. Artifacts found with the body show the boy was part of the Clovis culture, which existed in North America from about 13,000 years ago to about 12,600 years ago and is named for an archaeological site near Clovis, N.M.
        The boy’s genome showed his people were direct ancestors of many of today’s native peoples in the Americas, researchers said. He was more closely related to those in Central and South America than to those in Canada. The reason for that difference isn’t clear, scientists said.

        “DUH”, of course the reason for that difference is clear, ….. and the reason that those cited “scientists” didn’t want to speak the truth about the “reason for that difference” is also 100% clear.
        If those scientists had spoken the truth about the “reason for that difference” …. it would have negated, destroyed and/or discredited …… the “Out of Siberia and Across the Bering Sea Land Bridge Theory of the Migration of the First Humans to Populate the Americas”.
        Members of the Clovis culture is determined by the “shape” (napping) of their flint projectile points (arrowheads, spear points) …. and since there is no archeological history of the “origin” of the “Clovis point” then one has to assume the ancestors of the Clovis people had to have been resident in the Americas, especially in what is now the US southwest, Mexico, Central and South America, …. for hundreds n’ hundreds, if not thousands of years, prior to the cultural-wide fashioning and use of the “Clovis Point”, …… to wit:
        But then, the ancestors of the Clovis people/culture may have arrived via the East coast of the Americas. To wit:
        Just as a general reference, here is a map of finds of Clovis points and Clovis-like points. They definitely seem to be most common in the East and thin out heading Westward.

      • Samuel C Cogar
        October 29, 2016 at 11:18 am
        Whether Clovis culture came from European Solutrean or not, people did come from Siberia, although more likely along the coast rather than across Beringia and down the ice-free corridor, as previously conjectured.
        Here’s a recent one of the studies finding that Amerindian mtDNA Haplogroup X doesn’t support the trans-Atlantic hypothesis:
        Current thinking proposes at least three waves of immigration from Asia. The first was ancient and accounts for most Amerindians on both continents. The second was by Na Dene peoples, to include Athabaskans, Tlingits and Navajo. The third was by the ancestors of Eskimos and Aleuts, after the ice sheets melted.
        Linguists connect Siberian Yenisei with the Na Dene languages. It’s possible that Yenisei records a back-migration from Beringia:
        Linguistic Phylogenies Support Back-Migration from Beringia to Asia

      • Chimp
        October 29, 2016 at 12:03 pm

        Here’s a recent one of the studies finding that Amerindian mtDNA Haplogroup X doesn’t support the trans-Atlantic hypothesis:

        Chimp, what about the Amerindian mtDNA Haplogroup Y, Z & PU iffen you can find a sample of such.
        If not Chimp, …… I will settle for a good explanation from you that DISCREDITS the obvious trans-Atlantic crossing that would positively support the Cherokee Indian DNA origin, ….. to wit:

        The implication is that they (Cherokee Indians) are indeed, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. DNA Consultants, has now tested a much larger population on the North Carolina Reservation and gotten similar results. The Cherokees seem to be the people that Brent Kennedy thought the Melungeons were.
        The Cherokees tested had high levels of DNA test markers associated with the Berbers, native Egyptians, Turks, Lebanese, Hebrews and Mesopotamians. Genetically, they are more Jewish than the typical American Jew of European ancestry.
        Excerpted from source

        And if you don’t believe the above DNA tests are correct …….. then please tell me where the Cherokees originated.
        And if that’s too tuff for you to answer then tell me from where and when did the Mound Builders originate? To wit:

        Mound Builders were inhabitants of North America who, during a 5,000-year period, constructed various styles of earthen mounds for religious and ceremonial, burial, and elite residential purposes. These included the Pre-Columbian cultures of the Archaic period; Woodland period (Adena and Hopewell cultures); and Mississippian period; dating from roughly 3500 BCE [4,500 BC] (the construction of Watson Brake) to the 16th century CE, and living in regions of the Great Lakes, the Ohio River Valley, and the Mississippi River valley and its tributary waters.[1]
        Read more @

      • OOPS, my bad.
        In my above post it should read …… [4,500 BP], …… instead of ….. [4,500 BC],

      • As I recall the mtDNA data shows the origin for polynesians to be some from the Bismark archipelago of Papua New Guinea but mostly an asian origin (Formosa). The Y chromosome data shows more of a Melanesian origin for the men! The evidence supports a dual origin overall with much of the migration occurring via Fiji, sometimes referred to as the ‘Slow boat’ hypothesis, it also supports a gradual west to east migration.

    • A question that may never be resolved is why seafaring settlers traveled such immense distances.
      Then the British arrived.
      Jest aside, it would be interesting to collect DNA evidence to try to make sense of such migrations.

      • The most comprehensive DNA analysis of the Maori link the with the natives of Formosa (now Taiwan). How did that happen?
        Interesting that it couldn’t have been just some random landing. There must have been, at least, one male and one female. Inbreeding problems might tend to suggest that there was much more than just ‘one couple’ arriving by chance.

    • Simulations all the way down. Really solid data.
      The Maori People know how their ancestors got there, and it wasn’t any Spanish brat.
      Well we have to blame el nino/la nina for everything, including the settlement of Polynesia
      I just finished a simulation myself done in M$ excel. Gives me a total design lab for designing three pole three zero active/passive filters.
      But I’l gosh darn guarontee that mine will work.

      • So the Polynesians got to Tahiti, and completely missed Hawaii. And they didn’t come from New Guinea.
        Last time I checked there’s nowhere to come from East of Tahiti.
        And Thor Heyerdahl didn’t end up in Tahiti.
        They ran aground in the Tuamotu. Well that whole place is floating right at sea level.
        And the Rah expedition shows you can go both ways, if you have modern weather reports and maps.
        The wind and the waves and the birds along with some stars. They didn’t wait around for any SOL from NOAANASA

      • So far as I know the Polynesians do NOT have the Uzbeki gene, which permeates the Americas.
        So Nyet on Con tiki.

      • Vuk,
        I’m going with the Madagascaran hypothesis for the Brazilian Indian genome sequences. Madagascar was settled by Malayan-speaking long-distance voyagers from Indonesia.

      • George,
        That doesn’t mean that Amerindian populations couldn’t have Polynesian genes, or genetic sequences originating in Taiwan or Malaysia.

      • @ george e. smith, ….. vukcevic, ….. and …. Chimp, …..
        Now I will agree that one needs DNA testing to resolve the quandary of ….. “Mommy’s baby, Daddy’s maybe” …… but for tracking down Mommys and Daddys of long, long, long time passing ….. one should certainly NOT put 100% faith, ….. or even 55% faith …. in the accuracy of DNA ancestry origins, relationships and migrations.
        And the reason I stated the above is, the majority of the DNA evidence currently being tested, in actuality, can only be “dated” to around 9,500 BP ….. and that is not nearly old enough for accurately determining the “migration dates & routes” of various human groups or cultures to various locales on planet earth.
        And I chose the 9,500 BP date simply because the majority of all pre-9,500 BP fossil DNA and/or archeological evidence of human migrations and/or settlements are now sequestered “under water” to depths of 130 meters or 400 feet ….. as defined on this proxy graph, to wit:
        We (the scientific community) do not know how old the Great Pyramid of Giza is, or who designed it, or who constructed it, …… therefore it is obviously far older than 9,500 BP …. and most probably constructed far earlier than the last Glacial Maximum of 22,000 BP.

      • Thanks for the map vuc. That gives me a somewhat different idea of west and east.
        I have often thought that Cambodians could pass themselves off as Maori. The ones I know have that Maori nose. Probably comes from touching noses upon greeting. (it’s a little tough being mad at somebody if you are touching noses and eye to eye.)
        So I have always thought the Asian area around Burma and Indo-China for a “mainland” origin, so that would permit of a Formosan stop-off place.
        And your map shows that some of them could have gotten lost and ended up in Papua.
        From that map, it does beg the question of who found Hawaii; it does seem nowhere somebody would choose to go.
        But Samuel’s info is very interesting. My wife’s family is about 35% Cherokee DNA, and I just told her she’s Jewish per Samuel’s info.
        I don’t know what Samuel was hinting at, but the mound builders; at Cahokia and such places; that doesn’t strike me as a North Eastern Asian behavior; the Uzbeki link, and that map of Clovis points just screams of the idiocy of a scenario, where some folks boated down the Pacific Coast from Vladivostok, to The Pacific North West, and then all decided to go to New York and North Carolina, without stopping on the way to make Clovis points. Wasn’t any Denny’s to eat at on the way, in those days.
        Frankly I don’t care a hoot about the climate of this situation, but the anthropology and geography and travelography are interesting as hell. I’m glad we have some resident experts who know that stuff, because I sure as heck don’t.
        MY 97 year old MIL got a kick out of learning she’s Jewish. She knew about the family Cherokee link, and she is a rather cagey lady. MY SIL just did the thing on her mother, and it also came back with some north African and middle eastern genes, so I see some patterns emerging.
        That collection of Clovis points is interesting. Either they are all modern fakes made in China, or the hand to hand transfer of the technology was quite sophisticated. I know modern researchers, have tried to teach themselves Cloviscology, by whacking on their own flintstones, and it doesn’t look easy to do. The flake pattern is just so so, and it must have taken a lot of teaching to pass it from one to another. I can see a lot of smashed rocks if I was to try it myself.
        This is one of those good threads, that teaches us that reality is way weirder than fiction.

      • george e. smith – October 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        From that map, it does beg the question of who found Hawaii; it does seem nowhere somebody would choose to go.

        Huuummm, your above comment aroused my curiosity so I went lookin to see why the Hawaiian Islands were an “outlier” to island-hopping by the ancient Asian sea voyagers travelling east or west across the Pacific (peaceful) Ocean.
        And that ocean got its name because, most times, it is faster “floating” than it is “sailing”. And when one is “floating” on the Pacific Ocean, …… ya go with the flow, to wit:
        Northern Pacific ocean currents
        Iffen a boatload of travelers was unlucky enough to experienced Typhoon winds on their westward bound trip ……. they very well could have been lucky enough to be pushed northward to a safe harbor in the Hawaiian Islands where they survived and prospered …… even though they were forever isolated from their kin folk,

      • george e. smith – October 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        I don’t know what Samuel was hinting at, but the mound builders; at Cahokia and such places; that doesn’t strike me as a North Eastern Asian behavior; the Uzbeki link, and that map of Clovis points just screams of the idiocy of a scenario,

        george e., you are one of the very few people that I’m familiar with that can ….. “say the mostest by saying the leastest” ……. And that is why I luv reading your postings.
        And about those “screams” originating from that Clovis Point Map, …… me thinks it is “screaming” …… Manifest Destiny circa 6,000 BP …… (and that was a “clickable” hyperlink)
        george e. smith – October 30, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        That collection of Clovis points is interesting. …… [snip] …..the hand to hand transfer of the technology was quite sophisticated.

        As they say, ….. “Great minds think alike”.
        When it comes to “dating” archeological finds, ….. most modern researchers completely ignore or forget about ….. the aforesaid “hand to hand transfer of sophisticated technology”.
        For instance, the “experts” attest to a fact that …….
        The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Native American culture that first appears in the archaeological record of North America around 13,500 years ago”.
        But, that “first appearance” dating of 13.5 kyr BP ….. was determined by the oldest known “carbon dating” of the biological material in close proximately to a Clovis Point artifact ……. but that “first appearance date” does not include the hundreds, if not thousands of years necessary for transferring that sophisticated “napping” technology from the Paleoindian Indian that 1st invented it …. to the tens of thousands of other Clovis Culture members.
        If the Clovis Point is only found in the Americas, especially North America, ….. then that is obviously where it was invented …. many, many Moons prior to it being adopted as a “cultural standard”.
        And for anyone interested, here is some American History that you will not find in any Public School Textbooks on/of American History, to wit:
        North America’s First Metal Miners & Metal Artisans

    • Svante Pääbö showed DNA is from ‘modern man’ out of Africa and some Denisovan parts.
      Migration through Siberia, southeast began long before deglaciaton.
      The first steps from Asia to the islands really were steps – at times when one could go from the British Isles to the ‘continent’ and the channel was just a small river.
      So 3500 BC there should already have been some sparse population on the western islands of the Polynesian route.
      Polynesian by the way couldn’t rely on computer models but on anyway excellent navigators.

    • “What drove the movement? That’s the big question,” he said. “Was it political? Was it a result of population pressure? There were probably multiple reasons why people decided to leave one place and go to another.”
      Since ancient Greek settled aegean and mediterranean sea we call such movements ‘colonization’.

    • Indeed it does. As far as it goes, this map is extremely in tune with culture, blood and language groups.
      The Hawaiians sailed as far as Chile and possibly Peru and Southern California.
      A Polynesian explorer, likely 2 voyaging canoes as legend says, colonized the miserable spot of Easter Island. Origin unknown, but the name Rapa Nui suggests Tahiti.
      Polynesians from Tonga backtracked to Fiji and Samoa.
      A Polynesian group went east to Madagascar.
      Polynesians backtracked to the Solomon Islands.
      The seas were far more traveled than moderns gave credence. The long hauls all by Polynesians who had the skills and technology.

      • IMO Hawaiians might have reached southern CA, but Peru and Chile seem improbable. Polynesians from Easter Island might well have reached Chile, however, where they probably would not have been welcomed by the natives.
        From around 350 BC to AD 550, Madagascar was settled by Austronesians, most likely from Borneo, in outrigger canoes, not by Polynesians in catamarans. Polynesians of course also use outriggers, from which catamarans presumably evolved.

      • From around 350 BC to AD 550, Madagascar was settled by …..
        Chimp, that’s fine and dandy …… but relative to the “timeline” for immigrants into the Americas your above dates are equivalent to “where were you last week?”
        A logical estimate of when the 1st human immigrants arrived in the Americas would be sometime between 15,000 BP and 40,000 BP …….. or maybe earlier.

      • It is well established that the Polynesians reached Madagascar. Language, blood and artifacts all show the assimilation of Polynesians in the colonization of the island.
        We know the Hawaiians and Maori reached South America, the sweet potato and a variety of words regarding the plant are incorporated in the Hawaiian language. Likewise the Maori. But the Hawaiians did not have any known contact with New Zealand and did not trade with the Maori. It was once thought that chicken bones discovered in Chile came from Hawaii. This was discredited a couple years ago. But the investigation has been re-opened with the initial hypothesis on the table again. The Hawaiian chicken, the moa, still found wild on Kauai has a distinctive DNA, it being a representative of the fore-species of all domestic chickens.
        Easter Island did not have voyaging canoes. It is unlikely they went anywhere. The landing and colonization was a very scary dead end. The place did not have the resources the Polynesian culture uses.
        Recently a large double hull canoe was excavated in California that bore distinctive, and extremely advanced for the Americas , Hawaiian features, some so specific as to leave little doubt that a friendly contact had occurred that resulted in this tribe learning how to deal with the sea in a most advanced fashion.

  2. The research team’s simulations include El Nino Southern Oscillation patterns, which settlers most likely knew about and used to their advantage,….
    ..uh no
    El Nino causes severe droughts…they took off looking for a better place to live
    They didn’t “know” about El Ninos

    • They cause different conditions in different places, and the conditions even in the same places aren’t always the same. i.e. sometimes you’ll get lots of rain,sometimes you’ll get drought.

      • Jeff, they are not talking about different places…they are talking about specific places…..and El Ninos cause extreme drought in those specific places
        They didn’t consider the fact that people would have left in all different directions….they were only looking at one direction…..where people didn’t even know what was out there

    • Um ! they brung food with them. So the good times would be the time to go sailing.
      Leaving a droughted place to go to sea would be like the Scott expedition taking hay to Antarctica.
      The Maori are very sea savvy.
      And call me the next time that Papua gets droughted.
      I have a very fine Chinese made model of the Twin Hull Hawaiian Ocean liner. Yes they made it with the sails upside down; Took me a month of sundays to put them back the right side up.
      The Polynesians knew what “winds aloft” means.

      • “And call me the next time that Papua gets droughted.”
        That was in this last El Nino. New Guinea highlands anyway. El Nino droughts frequently affect SE Asia, Indonesia, New Guinea, Australia, India……

  3. I do not automatically attribute success to knowledge where random chance will suffice. I suspect that rather than developing a great deal of knowledge on climatic conditions and transoceanic currents, many islanders set off on adventures with some being successful while others were not. As with many of the crossings the migrators would have no method to relay learned knowledge back to the inhabitants of the islands they left behind.

    • But oral histories/traditions indicate there was travel back and forth between New Zealand and the island group that the Maori migrated from over several generations. Therse people were great sailors and navigators.

      • That canoe might be a replica, but not of anything the Maori would build.
        And as for “””…Satawalese Master Navigator Mau Piailug …”””
        There is no ” g ” either letter or sound in the Polynesian languages. So Satawalese Piailug is no Polynesian. I forgot to say there’s no “s” either so all nouns are both singular and plural.
        There is a spectacular fair dinkum Maori war canoe, in the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and it looks nothing like that replica thingie.
        I believe that contoured bow shape is a recent Hawaiian development; probably dates from the time of Don Ho.
        My daughter just gave away to charity a totally marvelous collection of color prints of Polynesian canoes from all over the region. I managed to rescue just one of them which is a Wa’a Kaulua of Hawaii. So it’s a smaller single sail version of the one I have the model of. It was a special Hawaiian Culture set painted by a Herb Kawainiu Kane in 1974. I wish I had the space to have kept the whole set. It’s a very sad story.
        Herb is not a Polynesian name there is no B in Polynesian languages either; or d either no guttural sounds of any kind. There is an ” ng ” sound but the ” guh ” is silent as in “sung”. You have to be part Maori to pronounce words that start with ” Ng “. I got a special dispensation to learn how, so long as I put in an hour a day at the word (g)im. Gee ! there’s no Y either.
        G (not my Polynesian name: probably Hori !)

      • The Maori refer to their ancient home origin as ” Hawaiki “.
        But nobody says that was what we call Hawaii. So the similarity may be just coincidental.
        Incidently, my wife says that Maori vowel sounds are identical to those in Spanish; well at least Mexican Spanish. When she heard my Maori Language recordings she couldn’t believe how close they were. well maybe it Jewish Spanish now.
        There’s a theory that the larger the land area and resources available to a population the more sophisticated and complex their cultures become. I believe I read that in some book I read about Meso-American Cultures. The Olmecs and Toltecs and such.
        Applied to the Polynesians, that would seem to be true. New Zealand is much larger than Hawaii, and also has been in more constant contact with closer islands, like Cook Islands, Raratonga etc. And Hawaii is bigger than Tahiti.
        The Melanesian connection seems strange to me. I’m not surprised to see some Fiji / Melanesia connection, but I would have guessed that Polynesians were more closely connected to Micronesia than the Melanesia. All the people I know from Guam, could easily pass themselves off as Maori.
        But I guess the genes don’t see it that way.
        If we really knew exactly what happened, we would probably all say; Why would you have expected something else.
        Mysteries are just common sense, once we really know who dunnit !

    • Rob,
      Kealaikahiki Channel between the Hawaiian islands of Lana’i and Kahoʻolawe near Maui means “road to Tahiti” (Kahiki).

  4. This is the sort of ‘research’ which, while interesting, falls into the pretty useless category. It is self evident that the very first settlers on each of these islands would simply have stumbled upon them randomly before being lost at sea. No prior known direction to head toward. Very different than Columbus ‘stumbling’ upon the Americas and then triggering systematic exploration after the return voyage.

    • very different indeed from Columbus who was a terrible navigator and an idiot who believed that
      he had landed in the east indies and who had no idea of the true size of the earth. He was lucky
      that he hit Cuba before running out of food.
      In contrast the polynesians were skilled navigators who made successful voyages across the pacific
      and made return voyages between the many different islands. They managed to colonise every known
      island in the Pacific and it is an amazing story.

      • England, France and Portugal refused to provide funding for Columbus’ voyage, they thought he was a ‘crackpot’. He was told that the Earth was much larger than his calculations showed.
        Columbus was very smart sailor but he wrongly converted Arab data about circumference of the Earth, in addition he relied on Marko Polo’s description of the China’s size, consequently concluding that India is much closer in the westward direction than actually it was.
        When Columbus quarrelled with native Jamaicans, they refused to give him any food. Since he knew that a lunar eclipse was imminent, he (somehow) explained to them that his god is angry with them for not giving him food and that for punishment the god will make moon disappear. When the eclipse started the Jamaicans hastily gave Columbus as much food as he wanted, and of course moon came back.

      • I suspect that Columbus realized his estimates of the size of earth and extent of Asia were off, but also knew that there was land in western longitudes ships could reach. He had visited Iceland, so may have heard about Greenland and beyond. In the Azores, he may have seen or heard tell of bodies washing ashore which were not “Christian” in appearance.
        So he fudged his calculations with estimates that could be defended, however wrong, because, for whatever reason, he had come to believe that the Indies were attainable by sailing west into the Ocean Sea.

      • Size of the earth didn’t matter for Columbus.
        The only issue sailors had in that era was that a ship couldn’t be much longer on sea more than 40 weeks – food will be rotten and drinking water gone. That is why they were used to follow coastlines and hopping islands. Columbus had the guts and managed to cross the ocean within 30 and some more weeks, making use of the trade winds.
        If Columbus really knew the true distance between Europe and Asia he wouldn’t even think about sailing the West. Probably the first next chance would have been with the invention of the refrigerator.

      • Geronimo.
        To learn whether Columbus was a “terrible navigator and an idiot”, or “the greatest sailor of them all” (Morison), I recommend you the book of Samuel Eliot Morison, Admiral of the Ocean Sea: A Life of Christopher Columbus (1942). He won a Pulitzer Prize for it. Morison was not only a great historian, but a very fine sailor himself. He even retraced Columbus’ route on a 45 foot ketch, with manuscripts of that time.

      • Columbus was both a fine skipper and an idiot. He was an idiot to have accepted an absurdly low value for the earth’s circumference, and a fine skipper for getting his men there and back. Of course, knowledge of winds and currents in the North Atlantic had been established by the Portuguese, but he still had to be good enough to use it.

      • Columbus had previously sailed north to Scandinavia, where he probably heard about land to the west – Iceland & Greenland. I believe he wanted to go find some western lands himself, but needed to obtain funding. Thus his tale of a smaller Earth and a way to the Orient by going west.
        That he knew he was in a new land and Not near the Orient is evidenced by him not restocking his ships and proceeding westward the short distance supposedly remaining to reach China. He instead traveled back to Spain to announce he almost made it.

      • Stevan Reddish
        October 29, 2016 at 12:05 pm
        Columbus visited Iceland not long after the final collapse of Norse settlements on Greenland. He also may have heard during his time in the Azores of bodies washing ashore which didn’t look like Christians. He also had a Basque pilot. Basques might have been secretly visiting Newfoundland by the 15th century, for the cod.
        Whether he really believed his public estimates of the size of the earth (too small) and extent of Asia (too long), or just used them to get funding, since he was already confidant that land lay to the west within reach of ships of his time, we’ll probably never know.

      • The Polynesians just ” Stumbled ashore somewhere. ” ranks right up there with that other fictional novel; ” The Egyptians couldn’t have built the pyramids. ”

    • Well you don’t just stumble ashore on some archipelago that no-one knows about.
      The albatrosses and sea gulls have been to all of these places and know where they all are.
      They have some strange fetish about laying eggs on hard rock or sand rather than up in the clouds; so they know where to go when its time to go.
      The Maori do know what sea gulls are.

      • In the same vein, I remember reading many years ago the these varied sea-farers could predict the existence of land hundreds of miles away by the ocean’s wave patterns, and that their charts were analogues of those patterns. True? Don’t know, but I suspect a solid chunk of fact underlying the hypothesis.

      • From 19., early 20 ctry there’s reports polinesian navigators taught the young on sea maps, grids laid of twigs, leaves for locations,
        Stones and mussel shells show wind directions and currents. Anyway: no sea cruise without local knowledge of the sea.

      • And I have read a thumbnail theory that the comings and goings of the Golden Plover gave the Polynesians the hint that there was land out there somewhere. Wonder if any of them tried to follow the Golden Plover to its Alaskan breeding grounds.

      • GP,
        Whales, too.
        IMO Hawaiians must have explored to the north and west, but finding no land within range, turned back. Also cold WX and rough seas.
        Their reaching the coast of North America from HI and South America from Easter Island is possible, but the natives might not have been friendly.

      • Southern Alta and northern Baja California are actually a little closer to Hawaii than is Tahiti, but there is nothing conveniently located mid-journey like the Line Islands and other Society Islands to break up the voyage.
        It’s remarkable that the Spanish sailed past the Hawaiian Islands en route from Baja to the Philippines for over 200 years, without, as far as is known, ever discovering them. They might have kept knowledge of them secret, but then why were Hawaiians so surprised by the sudden appearance of CAP Cook?

  5. “Seafarers traveled thousands of miles of ocean, navigating by stars and overcoming currents and difficult weather”
    Back then, weather was only difficult, an annoyance. Today it’s super duper mega extreme catastrophe, sowing death and destruction with each raindrop.

  6. When I was in Maui last year, our guide told us that the Polynesians thought that there was an island under every star, so even though the ocean is large and the number of islands small, eventually people would hit an island.
    No stories about those that inevitably found out the legend wasn’t true though.

    • IMO, each island, once colonized, sent out canoe voyages looking for new land. Birds would be indicators. If they found nothing, they could turn back before running out of food and water.
      Hard to believe that enough people to colonize Easter Island (Rapa Nui) arrived there by accident. Mangareva lies 1619 miles away.

      • As a native of the South Pacific (NZ), I can assure you we have a lot of data on all this, of all kindsw. Plus the old stories, long since written down. Google (esp. Scholar) helps. There remains much to learn, but we have better schooling than the NH ‘Progressive’ Universities etc……

      • Yes, sea level was a little lower during the last glacial epoch, but there weren’t any Polynesian seafarers then.

      • Toward the end of the last glaciation all of western Indonesia was connected to Malaysia and the Asian mainland; all the shelf of Sunda was above sea level.

      • Chimp
        October 28, 2016 at 10:19 pm

        Yes, sea level was a little lower during the last glacial epoch, but there weren’t any Polynesian seafarers then.

        Chimp, iffen there were no “Polynesian seafarers” during the last glacial epoch @ 20 kyrs ago ….. then who do you think it was that first ever set-up “housekeeping” at, to wit:

        Monte Verde is an archaeological site in southern Chile, located near Puerto Montt, Southern Chile, which has been dated to as early as 18,500 BP (16,500 B.C.).

  7. My interest faded when I read that they used “computer simulations and climatic data.” It would be a different story if they had used the Thor Heyerdahl approach and actually attempted the voyage using vessels and technology available 3,400 years ago.

  8. Indeed they did, but it was WX that happened every year, independent of El Nino.
    CAP Cook asked his Tahitian navigation informant how they sailed east when the winds in their latitude were easterly. The Tahitian replied that in the months of November, December and January, the easterlies died down and were replaced by westerlies, so that was when they sailed east.
    Cook was perhaps the first European who realized how the Polynesian islands had been settled. Too bad his crew gave the Hawaiians syphilis and they killed him before he could complete his study of Polynesian language, culture and navigation.

    • @Chimp: Okay, except for the shallow and incorrect final inferences. Cook learnt and taught indeed, from his writings. Having, as we sailors say, ‘wrung more saltwater out of his socks’ than any critics or commenters have ever sailed over. A kiwi bridgebuilder named Hec Busby helped set in motion a revival of ancient navigational skills. Using star maps for instance, and truly, each Island can ‘have its own star’ as part of the system’ along with other cues.

    • What was shallow?
      Cook didn’t write much about what he had learned, but presumably would have had he lived.
      Hakulea relied upon Micronesian navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug for its 1976 voyage to Tahiti.

  9. Well, they were not travelling east at the equatorial Pacific when there was a La Nina on.
    The oceans currents and the wind would have just pushed them backwards regardless of tacking etc.
    So yeah, they could move east between 10S-10N when an El Nino was on but it would have been easy once they got outside the 10s latitudes because now the winds and currents are mostly west-to-east regardless of El Nino/La Nina conditions…

    • Crossing the equator to reach Hawaii was an achievement, because of the new stars navigators would have seen.

      • Those stars weren’t new, but they were at different locations in the night sky, depending on which island you were on. It is pretty evident that all ancient peoples paid a lot of attention to the sky, especially the night sky,

  10. The polynesian canoes/catamaran were very good boats, and had no trouble going to windward and it is thought that when they set out they went to windward so that if they did not find anything it would be easier to return.
    When the British arrived they were amazed at how fast the native boats were.

    • “When the British arrived they were amazed at how fast the native boats were.”
      Magellan was astonished by the speed and maneuverability of the local boats when he stumbled across Guam.

      • I have long been in awe at the cultural similarities of the Maori and the Haida of the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Guai). It would seem plausible that they have similar origins although the Haida have occupied that land for 30,000 years. Their dugout war canoes could reach the Baja in California, where they were involved in the slave trade.

      • Karabar,
        Any similarities are more likely to arise from both being seafaring peoples inhabiting a similar climatic zone and environment than from direct cultural contact.
        The oldest date of human habitation from the Queen Charlottes of 13,800 years ago has been questioned, since obtained under water (2014), but is more plausible than 30,000 years. Modern people were in the Lake Baikal area of southeastern Siberia by 42 Ka, so dates that early in British Columbia can’t be ruled out, however.

  11. Of course, before the deglaciaton, the depths around Borneo / Papua New Guinea were covered with water. These distances were covered with rafts.

  12. “What drove the movement? That’s the big question,” he said. “Was it political? Was it a result of population pressure? There were probably multiple reasons why people decided to leave one place and go to another.”

    Come on, obviously, they were climate refugees. I mean the glacial period was over, they must have got tired of living in nice tropical environments with fruit on the trees and fish in the sea, and longed for the frozen tundras their oral legends spoke of. Their self-esteem needed a return to those heroic days when, if you didn’t manage to kill a large herbivore, you didn’t eat. IIRC, 3400 years ago was just coming up to the Minoan Warm Period; it must have been starting to get oppressively warm. They were just looking for cold places.
    There, question answered using 21st-century logic.
    Let’s not forget that “warm is bad” also means “cold is good”
    A paper that focuses on climate/weather/ENSO without a mention of climate change? Where are these guys living?
    I should probably add (/sarc) just in case anyone thinks I’m serious. You never know, these days.

  13. “Fitzpatrick said, there’s no easy way to explain the leap of faith it would take to set off on a colonizing mission of 400 to 2,500 miles.” But nobody would do anything so stupid. First you send young men on exploratory expeditions. Only once they’ve found somewhere attractive would you send a colonising expedition there.

    • First you send out those who endlessly bitch about the heat and claim sea level is rising. If they don’t come back you have a party with their grant money.

  14. Commonly lost in the explanation for the Polynesian voyaging, was that they were well aware the world was round, that there were land masses throughout the seas, that winds were seasonal, that waves foretold the winds forthcoming, that the color of the sea indicated depth, that droughts indicated the weather patterns have moved (and knew where they moved), that a float and clouds told speed of sale and wind, that the sun and stars told position. So accurate were the Hawaiians, for example, that they knew the names of stars that were invisible from Hawaii, but visible from the Southern Hemisphere. They named straights between the islands as directions to the island chains one would eventually land at in a straight line, as aligned with navigational stars. All preserved in chants, which were actually instructional.
    All of these traditions came shockingly to life when the Hokulea, using the Alalakeiki Channel as a starting point (” Road to Tahiti”), arrived in Tahiti flawlessly in 1976, using only ancient Hawaiian navigation instruments, and the knowledge one of the last remaining old style navigators from Micronesia.

  15. The probability of Polynesian contact with South America is made greater by the fact that pre-European Maori had various types of potato. All potato came originally from South America. The generic Maori name for potato is peruperu. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    • This appears no longer in question. It does appear that the Maori and the Hawaiians, who had no known contact between each other, both took voyaging trips to South America, Some slight evidence for the Maori to the Peruvian area, the same for Hawaiians to Chile.

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