From the Northwest Coast (of New Zealand) comes inspiring news for Northwest Coast (of North America) archaeologists.
I don’t know how many times I’ve told students that I would never really expect to find a canoe in an archaeological site and that the evidence for watercraft and marine fluency – still a contentious issue for the early Northwest Coast – will likely be resolved through interpretation of marine fauna from archaeological and from finding sites on remote islands. While in my view Kilgii Gwaay settles this question for the early period on the Northwest Coast, I suspect nothing short of a 10,000 year old dugout canoe will satisfy some people as to whether the first inhabitants around here could catch a fish.
So it came as a surprise to read that a nearly-complete, seven-metre long Maori wooden waka tikai, or river canoe, has been recently found in Muriwai Beach (map) on the Northwest Coast of New Zealand (video clip). The canoe may take several years to properly conserve, and is currently undated. While the canoe presumably is less than a thousand years old (the accepted time frame for the arrival of Maori in New Zealand), the fact that it survived at all, buried in the sands of what appears to be a fairly exposed beach, leads me to think we need to keep our eyes open more for this kind of find on the Northwest Coast. This story claims that it was seen washing up in the 1920s, but still – once something like this survives the process of burial then it might survive for a very long time indeed protected deep in dark, wet beach or dune deposits. Memo to self: don’t be so pessimistic!