A humble adze leads to ‘magic’ discovery
An unremarkable stone woodworking tool found on a tiny atoll 2,500 miles from Hawaii strengthens the theory that early Polynesians sailed skillfully and knowledgeably back and forth across the Pacific Ocean.
The marvelous discovery that the adze was hewn from a volcanic basalt unique to Kahoolawe supports traditional Hawaiian narratives about epic voyages, and the migration of Polynesians as early as a thousand years ago. It is further evidence that the ancient people had keenly developed navigational techniques to deliberately explore the ocean regions.
The adze was collected from Napuka in the Tuamotu archipelago about 1,000 miles southeast of Tahiti in the 1930s by Bishop Museum anthropologist Kenneth Emory, but did not conform to its surroundings.
A recent geochemical analysis revealed it could only have come from a few places along the Kahoolawe coast.
That fits Hawaiian oral histories that recount how before setting sail, voyagers stopped at Lae o Kealaikahiki, very near one of the sites of the distinctive stones. Rocks there were possibly gathered for ballast, then traded or given as gifts at Tuamotu. That also fits the meaning of Lae o Kealaikahiki, "headland or point of the way to Tahiti."
"Until our discovery," said Kenneth Collerson, one of two researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia, "there was no object found in southeast Polynesia that we could link back to a source in Hawaii. That's the real magic of this discovery."
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