New Zealand May Need to Rewrite History with Discovery of Mysterious Shipwreck

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By Reissa Su | January 8, 2014 6:06 PM EST

A mysterious shipwreck discovered off the coast of New Zealand may be the key to rewriting the island nation's history. Scraps of wood taken from the site may have probably come from a Dutch ship in the early 1700s, according to the results of carbon dating tests and research reports.

Reuters
A Maori warrior performs during an official welcome ceremony for the Rugby World Cup in Auckland September 3, 2011.

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The recovered ship is New Zealand's oldest known shipwreck traced 50 years before Captain James Cook arrived on the island. The discovery has suggested a race among colonial powers to reach remote islands on expeditions.

Climate scientist and author Jonathan Palmer explained that the 1700s was a time of European exploration and expansion. Many countries were competing for land and resources. Mr Palmer also studies tree rings at the University of NSW in Sydney, Australia.

The research on the mysterious shipwreck has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. According to the research, New Zealand was placed on the map by Abel Tasman in 1642, but he has never landed on the island. The credit for the discovery went to Captain Cook for being the first to land on the shores of the isles in 1769.

Mr Palmer has always wondered what happened in 130 years since there were no records of another group or ship to have visited the land at that time. He can only speculate that the mysterious shipwreck may have attempted to land but didn't quite make it back home.

It was a fisherman who had found a structure covered in mussels jutting out of North Island's waters in in Kaipara Head. The fisherman reported the find to Noel Hilliam, a local maritime museum employee, in 1981. 

Mr Hilliam and his team went to the site as directed by the fisherman and saw a ship measuring 25 metres long and 7 metres wide. He took two pieces of wood for examination.  Mr Hilliam had applied for a permit to recover the rest of the shipwreck, but the government denied his application.

Various storms throughout the years had buried the ship further into the sand and water which made the exploration all the more difficult.

Mr Palmer had heard about the North Island shipwreck years ago when he talked to Mr Hilliam about various wood samples from a bog on a farm.

Mr Palmer and his team of researchers had concluded that the wood samples taken from the shipwreck came from a Dutch ship. The wood used to build the ship came from the Southeast Asian forests where the Dutch East India Company had been based in the 17th century.

Although there were no historical records of a Dutch expedition headed for New Zealand in the 17th and 18th centuries, Mr Palmer suggests the expedition may have been kept secret due to the competition with colonial powers. This may have been true since previous reports refer to a story about Captain Cook claiming that the Maori had eaten other Europeans who arrived before him.

Mr Palmer hopes that the recent report will lead to an underwater archaeologist to excavate the site of the shipwreck to find out more about the vessel. 

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(Photo: Reuters / )
A Maori warrior performs during an official welcome ceremony for the Rugby World Cup in Auckland September 3, 2011.
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