before Captain James Cook

Shipwreck points to 18th-century race to colonize New Zealand

New Zealand wreck

By Ewen Gallaway - Nature

Scraps of wood salvaged off New Zealand’s coast probably come from a Dutch ship built in the early 1700s, a study based on carbon dating, tree rings and historical research reports.

The recovered vessel is the country’s oldest-known shipwreck — dating more than 50 years before Captain James Cook’s landing — and hints at a 'space race' among colonial powers to reach the remote isles.

“It was a period of European expansion and exploration, and there were many countries that were competing against each other, particularly for resources,” says lead author Jonathan Palmer, a climate scientist who studies tree rings at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

The research has been published in the current issue of theJournal of Archaeological Science.

Dutch explorer Abel Tasman put New Zealand on the map in 1642, but he never landed on the isles and Cook is credited being the first European to land there, in 1769.

“There’s nothing written about that intervening time period, and that to me has always been a bit of a mystery,” says Palmer.

“Why hadn’t anybody gone in the intervening 130 years ? Maybe there were some efforts and maybe this was an example of one that didn’t return home.”

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