The Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013 - 2014

Australasian Antarctic Expedition

History of Antarctic Exploration in 30 Objects

This Polynesian fishhook was found on Enderby Island amongst a small midden. The fishhook dates from the 14th century and provides the first evidence of pre-European arrival in the outlying subantarctic zone.

The hook is thought to have been crafted with stone tools from marine ivory and was probably used for fishing. The central notch on the hook is thought to be for attaching bait across the shank and the top notch is for attaching a line.

Around 650 years ago, Polynesian seafarers struck out from mainland New Zealand in their canoes colonising the sub-polar region. Helped by their sailing skill, technologically advanced double canoes and the prevailing westerly winds these early explorers rapidly dispersed across the region. The discovery of this artefact makes the Auckland Islands the southernmost extent of Polynesian exploration recorded and the closest that we know people had got to Antarctica in the south west Pacific at this time.

Archaeological evidence from the midden shows that Polynesians and their dogs survived at Sandy Bay for only a short time, probably for a few years at most. They hunted sea lions, fur seals and nesting seabirds, but there was little foraging in the sea or coastal forest. That these early colonisers did not stay long is not a surprise as the miserable climate and virtual absence of plant foods to alleviate a diet of seals and birds, must have discouraged inhabiting the Island for long.

Once the island was abandoned no further settlement seems to have taken place until after the European discovery of the islands in 1807. When settlement resumed, it was by a group of Maori and Moriori in 1842-1856. They, and British colonists, 1849-1852, abandoned the islands quickly in the face of harsh environmental conditions.

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Currently on display in the Roaring 40s display at the Southland Museum & Art Gallery.