Almost frozen in time: Antarctica’s largest Maori settlement – Shelly Angeli

Underneath the Antarctic sea ice one hundred kilometres south of Argentina lies a frozen wonderland, featuring jagged peaks, massive icebergs and almost everything else you could imagine. But on a recent five-day expedition into…

Almost frozen in time: Antarctica's largest Maori settlement - Shelly Angeli

Underneath the Antarctic sea ice one hundred kilometres south of Argentina lies a frozen wonderland, featuring jagged peaks, massive icebergs and almost everything else you could imagine.

But on a recent five-day expedition into this mysterious place, New Zealand geologist Craig Hodgson and his team captured a remarkable image – the largest Maori settlement east of New Zealand.

This remarkable Maori settlement was frozen in Antarctica

But beyond its almost Antarctic appearance, the Maori settlement is a pretty good representation of Maori settlement on the Pacific.

There are Maori sites in the United States but this settlement is the largest recorded here in Antarctica. While New Zealand had a settlement in Antarctica well before Europeans arrived in the 1840s, it was discovered as part of a University of Otago expedition led by the renowned Dr John Owen who established a home on Lancaster Sound.

Understandably, the rest of his expedition wasn’t impressed. “Much of the main town, on Plymouth Rock, was wooden with a Chinese iron roof,” recalls Owen’s diary, “And there were numerous small houses.” This was “a run-down place with no sunlight much of day.”

Nevertheless, it continued to flourish until the arrival of the Italians in the 1940s, and because of its remote location it might have been prey to seismic activity (some maintain it was a trigger to the Hobbit’s discovery in 1930s NZ).

The settlement is known as Whangarei and stands at 4.9 km tall (2.75 miles or four km in square) and 12 km across (1.8 kilometers or 9 kilometers).

It is home to 3,500 people, and this meeting place is preserved thanks to the harsh Antarctic landscape which persists to this day.

What Hodgson discovered is one of those wonders of the world

But since the population was running out to last 50 years and the settlement declined, it survived for more than a millennium, with contact with Australasian tribes coming about 1400. Then, about 1000 years ago, the settlement collapsed as New Zealand’s settlements went backwards.

The settlement stands to this day – deep in Antarctic ice. Once the ice recedes, these 300 ancient buildings will be unearthed and peer deep into the past.

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