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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 7, 2007

Adze find confirms Hawaiian voyages

Advertiser Staff

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Adzes, like the one above, were discovered in East Polynesia. Researchers think they could have come from quarries in Hawai'i.

Bishop Museum photo

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Australian researchers have found the first physical evidence validating centuries of oral history that the first Hawaiians were skilled navigators who sailed back to Polynesia and brought rocks from Hawai'i that were turned into critical wood-cutting tools.

Kenneth Collerson and Marshall Weisler of the University of Queensland studied 19 axe-like adzes collected by famed Bishop Museum archeologist Kenneth Emory between 1929 and 1934 from the Tuamotu Archipelago, the navigational crossroads of East Polynesia. The adzes are made of volcanic rock, which is unknown on coral atolls that make up the Tuamotus.

"Any stone adzes found in the Tuamotus have to be from somewhere else," Weisler said.

He and Collerson looked at the trace element and isotope chemistries of the adzes and linked them to stone adz quarries in the Hawaiian islands. Their research appeared in the Sept. 28 issue of Science Magazine.

Some historians have speculated that early Polynesian navigators stumbled on the Hawaiian islands. But the research by Weisler and Collerson shows that they successfully made the nearly 2,500 mile journey back.

"Oral histories talk about voyages between Hawai'i and Tahiti in the 1200s, 1300s and 1400s," Weisler said. "Now we have hard evidence of it. At the very least, this research tell us that this was a routine voyage from Hawai'i to the Tuamotus sometime after about 1300 A.D. "

Weisler worked as an archeologist at the Bishop Museum in the 1980s where "I started asking the question, 'Could we actually track the movement of people in Polynesia? Is that possible to do?'"

One of the adz named C7727 particularly piqued their interest. It came from a coastal area of Kaho'olawe with the Hawaiian name Lae o Kealaikahiki, which means "cape or headland on the way to Tahiti."

"That was mind-blowing," Weisler said.

"It could be that that was a very important place where people collected rocks from to use as ballast for the trip down, or as a gift or memento."

Dr. Kekuni Blaisdell, who teaches in the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at the University of Hawai'i's medical school, said the research merely documents what Hawaiian activists like him know in their hearts.

"We kanaka maoli feel more and more kinship with our moana nui brothers and sisters and cousins. This relationship is timeless," Blaisdell said. "We went back initially to bring important things to our new home: breadfruit, banana, kukui, taro.

"We went back and forth until we decided that we had everything we needed here. In a sense it was good, but in a sense it wasn't good because we no longer had contact with our oceanic brothers and sisters and cousins. But we are reconnecting now," Blaisdell said.