Thirty years ago locals discovered the remains of a wooden ship off Pouto Point in New Zealand. The group salvaged a few wooden timbers before the vagaries of the sea buried the wreck under more than 90 feet of sand. Through the use of radio carbon dating and tree ring sequencing, scientists now believe the ship to have sunk around 1705 – making it 65 years earlier than Captain Cook’s exploratory voyages to New Zealand.
New Zealand was first located by European explorers in 1642 when Dutchman Abel Tasman landed on the islands. Although numerous places and items have been named after Tasman, he is perhaps best known for the Tasmanian Devil Looney Tunes character. The current historical narrative asserts that the next European to visit the islands was Captain Cook in 1769; however, the dating of this ship calls into question whether Cook was indeed the next European to visit the islands. The types of wood recovered have led researchers to believe the ship was refitted at Genoa or Java before wrecking off Pouto Point, New Zealand. British admiralty maps dated 1803 suggest the Portugese may have discovered New Zealand in the 1550s. The wood recovered from the wreck and the timing of its sinking in 1705 would be in line with the supposition that the wreck was the result of another expedition to New Zealand as both Genoa and Java were transit stations for Portuguese ships. One researcher had believed it to be the wreck of the Portuguese ship Cicilla Maria, however the new dating information now precludes that possibility. Irregardless, the dating of the wreck sheds further light on the origins of European settlement in New Zealand.