(CNN) – For decades, historians and scientists believed that Antarctica was first discovered by Europeans and Americans. But according to a new study, it may have been the indigenous Maori of New Zealand who first saw the frozen landscape.
Maori travel to the southernmost continent may have dated back to the 7th century, long before Europeans arrived there in the early 19th century, according to research published this week in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
The first confirmed sighting of mainland Antarctica has long been attributed to a Russian expedition in 1820, and the first record of a person who set foot on Antarctica is attributed to an American explorer in 1821.
But Polynesian sailors’ excursions to Antarctic waters later date back to about 1,320 years ago, a rich history that has been overshadowed by that of European exploration, according to the study.
“We found that the Polynesian narratives of the voyage between the islands include the voyage in Antarctic waters of Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the ship Te Ivi O Atea, probably in the early 7th century,” said lead researcher and conservation biologist Priscilla Wehi.
The study is based on oral and narrative traditions shared within the Maori community, and Maori carvings, which researchers say represent travelers as well as navigational and astronomical knowledge.
The researchers also found a large amount of existing ‘gray literature’ – research conducted outside of traditional academic and business channels – that had not been adequately examined.
“When you put it together, it’s very clear, there is a very long history of connection to Antarctica,” Wehi said. “The Maori participated in many different roles and in many different ways in terms of Antarctica.”
The study challenges commonly held preconceptions around Maori knowledge about Antarctica, both past and present, said co-author Billy van Uitregt.
“There are many Maori working in Antarctica as researchers, participating in New Zealand fishing boats in the Southern Ocean,” he said. “Many Maori have this kind of lived and physical experience of the Antarctic landscapes and seascapes.”
According to Wehi, looking at the past through different perspectives shows that history is “multidimensional.”
“The contribution of many underrepresented groups, from indigenous peoples to women, becomes visible, and that is certainly the case in Antarctic history,” he said.