According to a new study, the first people to discover Antarctica were not seafarers from the West, but the Polynesians, who discovered the cold continent 1,300 years ago.
Scientists from New Zealand analyzed oral stories about a Polynesian explorer who followed the “icy mountain continent.” To find evidence, they analyzed “gray literature” or historical accounts that had not been published in peer-reviewed journals and integrated them with indigenous oral histories and art.
The results of a deep immersion in the history of indigenous peoples surprised scientists. According to most historical records, the Polynesians probably discovered the southernmost continent 1000 years before Westerners first noticed it in 1820.
Polynesian explorer Hui Te Rangiora (also known as Xi Te Rangiora) and his team sailed into Antarctic waters aboard the Te Ivi o Atea ship in 600 AD.
The Maori (and Polynesian) connection with Antarctica and its waters has been part of Antarctic history since about the seventh century.
After Westerners first reached Antarctica in the 19th century, the researchers said a group of Maori joined their travels as crew members and even as medical workers, although prejudice against indigenous peoples prevailed at the time.