A timeline of South American native maritime history

A Timeline of South American Native Maritime History

The South American cultures expert and adventurer, Glen Short writes about the maritime history of South America. Glen has been an important part of the Viracocha III project and has helped us with the construction of the reed raft, our onsite museum in Arica, Chile and with research about ancient South American cultures and Technology.

11.OOO BCENative Americans colonized the Americas via coastal navigation over 10,000 years ago.Initially coming from Beringia via the “kelp highway”, humans also were able to navigate against the strong Humboldt Current all the way south to Monte Verde in southern Chile by 13,500 years ago.Erlandson, et al: The Kelp Highway Hypothesis: Marine Ecology, the Coastal Migration Theory, and the Peopling of the Americas, The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology Volume 2, 2007 - Issue 2
3000 -1500 BCEReed boats have been used on the desert coast of Peru for at least 3,500 years, probably longer,; “caballitos del mar” are still in use today in Huanchaco, Peru.Archaeologist Gabriel Prieto adds that pre-Columbian relics indicate the ancient watercraft were different and larger than those in use today.Oscar Paz Campuzano, Descubren evidencia más antigua del caballito de totora, article in El Comercio, Lima, 3-8-2014
500 BCEPrehistoric Chilean mariners draw rock paintings depicting a whale hunt in the Izcuña Ravine, near El Medino in Chile’s Atacama region.A ten foot wooden harpoon was also found that dates back 7000 years.
Some archaeologists think the boats were actually catamarans with air-filled sea lion-skin outriggers, but it is hard to discern from the primitive rupestrian motifs.
Sara Gibbens, Dramatic Whale Hunts Depicted in Ancient Rock Art, 15 Feb 2018, online article in NatGeo.com
1400CEAncient Peruvian mariners traded with cultures as far north as present-day MexicoIt is known they traded Spondylus shells and copper artefactsMelgar Tísoc, Emiliano, “La tecnología marítima prehispánica en los contactos intraoceánicos Andes -
Mesoamérica”, article in Dimensión Antropológica, vol. 17, septiembre-diciembre, 1999, pp. 7 -35.
700-1000 CEAnalysis of sweet potato DNA conclusively shows it was introduced into Polynesia from South America before European contact.The type of sweet potato found in Polynesia is propagated via cuttings. Additionally, all though Polynesia variations of the Quechua name are used.Roullier et al: Historical collections reveal patterns of diffusion of sweet potato in Oceania obscured by modern plant movements and recombination. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 2013 Feb 5;110(6):2205-10. doi: 10.1073/pnas.
1300CEA Peruvian mummy, now in Bolton Museum in the UK,was embalmed with resin from a tree that only grows in Oceania.Both the resin and mummy were radiocarbon dated by Oxford University to around the year 1300.University of York Magazine, page 9, April/May 2008
Around 1340CEDNA analysis indicates the presence of Native American blood in Polynesia between the years 1280 and 1495, most likely around the year 1340.Professor Thorsby postulates Native Americans arrived on Easter Island as early as 50 years after the first Polynesians arrived, either of their own volution or accompanying returning Polynesians.Thorsby, Erik: Genetic Evidence for a Contribution of Native Americans to the Early Settlement of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) article in Frontiers of Ecology and Evolution, 14 October 2016.
Around 1480CEThree separate Spanish chronicles mention Inca king Tupac Yupanqui sailed to the west with a large number of ships and returned a year later with “dark skinned people”, including respected Spanish chronicler Sarmiento de Gamboa.Historian Jose Antonio del Busto published a book proposing the voyage left modern day Ecuador, reaching Mangareva, where complementary evidence survives in place names, dances and oral histories, before returning to South America via Easter Island. A stone platform on Easter Island is constructed in Inca stonemasonry style, and is one of the only ones out of more than 300 on the island that aligns with a solstice point. It is interesting to note there is an Ushni (Inca)-style platform in Hawaii, at Hapaialii Heiau, which aligns with the solstices, and has been radio-carbon dated to the mid 1400s,ie, the Inca era. Busto, Jose Antonio del Tupac Yupanqui: Descubridor de Oceania, Fondo Editorial del Congreso de Peru, Lima 2007.

Regarding Hawaii, see Stanton, Karin, Team Re-creates Big Isle Hawaiian Site, article in the Star Bulletin, 13th June 2008
1947Archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl voyages to French Polynesia in a balsa-wood raft, demonstrating maritime contact was technically possible.Heyerdahl’s hypothesis was popularized by his book and film Kon-Tiki.Heyerdahl Thor:The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas. Simon and Schuster 1948
1969Gene Savoy constructs the Feathered Serpent, the first totora-reed raft in modern times, intending to reach Mexico.Savoy voyaged from from near Trujillo in Peru to Panama, his raft was lost when a storm un-moored it and carried it out to the seaSavoy, Gene: On the Trail of the Feathered Serpent (Bobbs-Merrill, 1974)
1970 and 1973Spanish adventurer Vital Alar reaches Australia from Ecuador on primitive balsa-wood rafts in two separate expeditionsBoth voyages completed in less than six months with balsa-log rafts fitted with a single square sail.Alsar wrote two books, La Balsa (1973)and Por que imposible? (1976)
2000 and 2003Biologist and Explorer, Phil Buck builds two totora reed rafts and sails from Chile to Easter IslandBuck’s Viracocha I and Viracocha II’s successful voyages proved the sea-worthiness of rafts made from totora reed can cover vast distances, validating Heyrdahl’s hypothesis. Sea Drift: Rafting Adventures in the Wake of Kon-Tiki, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 2007.

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