Navigation and the Wealth of Nations

Global Determinants of Navigational Ability, by Coutrot et al:

Using a mobile-based virtual reality navigation task, we measured spatial navigation ability in more than 2.5 million people globally. Using a clustering approach, we find that navigation ability is not smoothly distributed globally but clustered into five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries. Furthermore, the economic wealth of a nation (Gross Domestic Product per capita) was predictive of the average navigation ability of its inhabitants and gender inequality (Gender Gap Index) was predictive of the size of performance difference between males and females. Thus, cognitive abilities, at least for spatial navigation, are clustered according to economic wealth and gender inequalities globally.

This is an incredible study. They got 2.5 million people from all over the world to participate.

If you’ve been following any of the myriad debates about intelligence, IQ, and education, you’re probably familiar with the concept of “multiple intelligences” and the fact that there’s rather little evidence that people actually have “different intelligences” that operate separately from each other. In general, it looks like people who have brains that are good at working out how to do one kind of task tend to be good at working out other sorts of tasks.

I’ve long held navigational ability as a possible exception to this: perhaps people in, say, Polynesian societies depended historically far more on navigational abilities than the rest of us, even though math and literacy were nearly absent.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the authors got enough samples from Polynesia to include it in the study, but they did get data from Indonesia and the Philippines, which I’ll return to in a moment.

Frankly, I don’t see what the authors mean by “five distinct yet geographically related groups of countries.” South Korea is ranked between the UK and Belgium; Russia is next to Malaysia; Indonesia is next to Portugal and Hungary.

GDP per capita appears to be a stronger predictor than geography:

Some people will say these results merely reflect experience playing video games–people in wealthier countries have probably spent more time and money on computers and games. But assuming that the people who are participating in the study in the first place are people who have access to smartphones, computers, video games, etc., the results are not good for the multiple-intelligences hypothesis.

In the GDP per Capita vs. Conditional Modes (ie how well a nation scored overall, with low scores better than high scores) graph, countries above the trend line are under-performing relative to their GDPs, and countries below the line are over-performing relative to their GDPs.

South Africa, for example, significantly over-performs relative to its GDP, probably due to sampling bias: white South Africans with smartphones and computers were probably more likely to participate in the study than the nation’s 90% black population, but the GDP reflects the entire population. Finland and New Zealand are also under-performing economically, perhaps because Finland is really cold and NZ is isolated.

On the other side of the line, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Greece over-perform relative to GDP. Two of these are oil states that would be much poorer if not for geographic chance, and as far as I can tell, the whole Greek economy is being propped up by German loans. (There is also evidence that Greek IQ is falling, though this may be a near universal problem in developed nations.)

Three other nations stand out in the “scoring better than GDP predicts” category: Ukraine, (which suffered under Communism–Communism seems to do bad things to countries,) Indonesia and the Philippines. While we could be looking at selection bias similar to South Africa, these are island nations in which navigational ability surely had some historical effect on people’s ability to survive.

Indonesia and the Philippines still didn’t do as well as first-world nations like Norway and Canada, but they outperformed other nations with similar GDPs like Egypt, India, and Macedonia. This is the best evidence I know of for independent selection for navigational ability in some populations.

The study’s other interesting findings were that women performed consistently worse than men, both across countries and age groups (except for the post-90 cohort, but that might just be an error in the data.) Navigational ability declines steeply for everyone post-23 years old until about 75 years; the authors suggest the subsequent increase in abilities post-70s might be sampling error due to old people who are good at video games being disproportionately likely to seek out video game related challenges.

The authors note that people who drive more (eg, the US and Canada) might do better on navigational tasks than people who use public transportation more (eg, Europeans) but also that Finno-Scandians are among the world’s best navigators despite heavy use of public transport in those countries. The authors write:

We speculate that this specificity may be linked to Nordic countries sharing a culture of participating in a sport related to navigation: orienteering. Invented as an official sport in the late 19th century in Sweden, the first orienteering competition open to the public was held in Norway in 1897. Since then, it has been more popular in Nordic countries than anywhere else in the world, and is taught in many schools [26]. We found that ‘orienteering world championship’ country results significantly correlated with countries’ CM (Pearson’s correlation ρ = .55, p = .01), even after correcting for GDP per capita (see Extended Data Fig. 15). Future targeted research will be required to evaluate the impact of cultural activities on navigation skill.

I suggest a different causal relationship: people make hobbies out of things they’re already good at and enjoy doing, rather than things they’re bad at.



Please note that the study doesn’t look at a big chunk of countries, like most of Africa. Being at the bottom in navigational abilities in this study by no means indicates that a country is at the bottom globally–given the trends already present in the data, it is likely that the poorer countries that weren’t included in the study would do even worse.


Maps, maps, maps (pt. 2/2: Australia)

Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543
Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543

Yes, the answer to Tuesday’s final query is that the Dieppe maps, (including Guillaume Brouscon’s,) show a great big landmass almost exactly where Australia actually is, a good 50 or 60 years before the first documented European sighting. (By Dutch navigator Willem Janszoon, in 1606.)

800px-Australia_discoveries_by_Europeans_before_1813_enThere’s this funny gap in human knowledge of Australia. 50,000 years ago, humans equipped with little more than sharp rocks and pointy sticks managed to get to Australia and make themselves home. Then, for the next 49,500 or so years, everyone else forgot that it was there. (Aside from a few lost souls from India who washed up, IIRC, abut 10,000 years ago.) (It looks like the southern coast of Australia wasn’t even explored [by sea,] until 1801.)

Even China, an organized polity with excellent record-keeping, ship-making, and map-making skills going back centuries, does not show Australia on its maps (at least not on any map I’ve found,) until 1602.

1602 is still before 1606, but we will discuss these Chinese maps in a minute.

Portugal had a policy, in the 1500s, of treating its nautical maps as official state secrets. French spies, therefore, went and bribed Portuguese map-makers into sharing their secrets, the results of which are probably the Dieppe maps, due to their many Portuguese and French labels, indicating French cartographers working off Portuguese originals.

All of which raises the question of WHO was exploring Australia in the early 1500s. Was it the Portuguese? If so, they’ve done an excellent job (a few bribed cartographers aside,) in keeping it secret. Unlike the fabled Viking settlement in Vinland, we have yet to discover any hard evidence, such as Portuguese DNA or artifacts in Australia, that would confirm an early Portuguese presence.

The “Australia” landmass on the Dieppe maps is labeled “Jave la Grande.” Wikipedia claims that this name comes from Marco Polo:

“As explained by Sir Henry Yule, the editor of an English edition of Marco Polo’s travels: “Some geographers of the 16th century, following the old editions which carried the travellers south-east of Java to the land of Boeach (or Locac), introduced in their maps a continent in that situation”.[3]”

Behaim's Erdapfel globe, 1492
Behaim’s Erdapfel globe, 1492

The problem with this explanation is that in the two and a half centuries of map-making between the publication of Marco Polo’s adventures and the drawing of the Dieppe maps, no one stuck in a giant continental blob of land south of Indonesia, labeled “Jave la Grande” nor anything else. Jave la Grand does show up on some of these maps, but as a quite ordinary island about where you’d expect it. EG, the Erdapfel globe of 1492 (too early to include Columbus’s discoveries, which weren’t known until 1493, but definitely disproving the idea that people in Columbus’s day thought the world was flat.)

I find it highly unlikely that the Dieppe cartographers suddenly decided to turn “Jave la Grande” into a great big landmass in a spot where no prior European maps had ever shown land, and happened, totally by accident, to position it where there actually is a continent.

The Erdpafel's depiction of the Pacific, including Java Major
The Erdpafel’s depiction of the Pacific, including Java Major (aka Java la Grande)

It seems far more likely that they were working off charts that happened to show a large landmass in this spot, and needing a name for it, they chose the closest thing they could find in Marco Polo’s account. (I would not worry about the location being slightly off, due to these maps predating our ability to find longitude at sea by over a hundred years.)

That leaves the question of how Australia got on the charts. Just as the French got their information from the Portuguese, the Portuguese may have gotten their information, in turn, from someone else, like the Chinese, Indonesians, or Islamic mariners.

The Wikipedia page on Islamic geography is inadequate for me to draw any conclusions from it.

Japanese copy of Matteo Ricci's Kunyu Wanguo Quantu world map
Japanese copy of Matteo Ricci’s Kunyu Wanguo Quantu world map

As I mentioned earlier, the first Chinese maps (that I know of) to show Australia are from 1602, after the Dieppe maps. The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu were created by Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit missionary. The Kunyu Wanguo Quantu combines, for the first time, the geographic knowledge of Europe and China.

Sancai Tuhui World Map
Sancai Tuhui World Map, the Shanhai Yudi Quantu, of 1609

Ricci got to China by hopping aboard a Portuguese vessel, which dropped him off at their colony in Goa. From there he traveled to Macau, and then to Beijing and the Forbidden City (though he never met the Emperor.) So I think it highly likely that Ricci had access to (or knowledge of) Portuguese maps/discoveries, or the Dieppe maps themselves. I suspect that Ricci’s knowledge of Australia did not come from Chinese sources, because the Chinese world map Shanhai Yudi Quantu, (1609,) though inspired by Ricci’s work, does not show Australia.

The Indonesians are another potential source. I don’t know anything about the history of Indonesian map-making, but the Wikipedia page on the prehistory of Australia intriguingly informs us:

…the people living along the northern coastline of Australia, in the Kimberley, Arnhem Land, Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York had encounters with various visitors for many thousands of years. People and traded goods moved freely between Australia and New Guinea up to and even after the eventual flooding of the land bridge by rising sea levels …

Indonesian “Bajau” fishermen from the Spice Islands (e.g. Banda) have fished off the coast of Australia for hundreds of years. Macassan traders from Sulawesi regularly visited the coast of northern Australia to fish for trepang, an edible sea cucumber to trade with the Chinese since at least the early 18th century. Tamil sea-farers also had knowledge of Australia and Polynesia before European contact.[37] …

The myths of the people of Arnhem Land have preserved accounts of the trepang-catching, rice-growing Baijini people, who, according to the myths, were in Australia in the earliest times, before the Macassans. …

In 1944, a small number of copper coins with Arabic inscriptions were discovered on a beach in Jensen Bay on Marchinbar Island, part of the Wessel Islands of the Northern Territory. These coins were later identified as from the Kilwa Sultanate of east Africa. Only one such coin had ever previously been found outside east Africa (unearthed during an excavation in Oman).

Ruysch Map
Ruysch Map

So it is possible that the accounts of any of these folks could have made it onto local maps, and made their way from there to the Portuguese and the Dieppe maps (though I will note that if the Macassans got there in the 18th century, that is after the Dieppe maps, but I don’t know how exact that date is.)

There is, however, a potentially more mundane explanation for this odd landmass: it could just be South America. To European mapmakers of the late 14 and early 1500s, it was not at all clear that Columbus had discovered the edge of a new continent, rather than some islands off the coast of Asia–hence Ruysch’s 1507 map that show Massachusetts merging into China.

Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland
Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland

In the days before mariners could easily check their longitude at sea, the location of various islands could only be estimated by calculating the direction and speed the ship that had reached them had been going, eg, “Three days’ sail to the West.” This meant that islands could appear in different spots on different maps, which sometimes resulted in islands getting duplicated in maps created by compiling several earlier charts. Iceland, for example, shows up twice on this map:

I think it possible, therefore, that the Dieppe map makers had before them one map which showed the coast of Brazil as an island near Indonesia, and a second map showed it as part of a continent in between Europe and Asia, and simply recorded both on their combined map. Personally, I think the shape of Jave la Grande looks more like South America than Australia, but perhaps if I could read thee maps or examine them in more detail, I would revise that assessment.

Beatus T-O style Map showing the antipodes, 1050
Beatus T-O style Map showing the antipodes on the far right, AD 1050

This would be a case of the Dieppe map makers getting lucky, not unheard of phenomenon. Medieval Europeans believed, for example, in a mythical “fourth continent” located on the other side of the world, called fanciful names like “the antipodes” (“the backwards feet,” a reference to the amusing idea that people on the other side of the world are standing upside down relative to oneself–again, proof that Europeans well before Columbus knew the Earth is round;) or less fancifully, “terra australis,” “southern land.” Since the Bible commands Christ’s disciples to spread his Gospel to “the four corners of the Earth,” Medieval mapmakers, faced with only 3 continents, figured there had to be a fourth. But since philosophical opinions conflicted regarding this fourth continent, it was not always included on maps.

The European age of exploration pushed the borders of this fourth continent increasingly southward, as the vast expanse of the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans were found not to harbor it, until it was restricted to the area south of South America. But here folks got lucky, and spotted an actual continent right where their maps said there ought to be one. Likewise, when Australia first showed up on European maps, it was supposed to be a northern promontory of this most southerly land, and so depicted. Thus the name “Terra Australis” came to be inscribed on this territory.

So we are still left with a mystery: did someone actually map Australia before the Dutch, or did the Dieppe map makers just get lucky?


Maps Maps Maps: A short history (pt 1/2)

Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland
Mercator map of 1595 showing Hy-Brasil and an extra Iceland

Old maps are full of curiosities, like completely mythical islands (eg, Hy-Brasil,) land masses radically out of place or duplicated, and massive changes in scale from one side to the other.

Historical map-makers had three main problems: 1. They couldn’t measure longitude, 2. Their maps were often based on compilations of lots of maps from many different sources, often resulting in confusion, and 3. Some groups were more wiling to share their maps than others. (For example, there are lots of questions about what exactly the Portuguese knew in the 14 and 1500s, like rumors that Portuguese fishermen were secretly hauling in cod off the coast of Massachusetts–more on the Portuguese later.)

c5933People generally made good maps of their local areas fairly early on–the Chinese have some excellent early early maps, for example. But beyond the immediate and local, maps quickly became less detailed and more stylized, as in this “T-O” style medieval map, which obviously is not even trying to be accurate, but to express a theologic point.

Since early sailors did not usually strike out over long stretches of open water, but headed to nearby ports or islands a few days’ sail away, I suspect that most early sea charts put a great deal of effort into describing the relevant rocky shoals to avoid and safe harbors to take advantage of, and not so much effort into describing the broad curve of continental coastlines.

While latitude can be fairly easily measured by simply measuring the height of the North Star in degrees (if you are at the equator, the North Star will lie on the horizon; if you are at 45 degrees north, the North Star will be 45 degrees high in the sky;  if you are at the North Pole, the North Star will be directly above you, or 90 degrees. If you can’t find the North Star, you’re south of the equator.) (Wyrd Smythe explains in more detail if you are confused.)

But there is no easy, low-tech way to determine longitude, your east-west position on the Earth’s surface. Longitude is not a huge deal when island-hopping short distances, but it becomes a huge deal once you’re undertaking multi-week trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific voyages, where a storm can suddenly blow you days off course and you end up crashing into rocks you didn’t know were there. For example, in 1707, four British Navy warships were pushed off course by storms off the coast of England and crashed into the Isles of Scilly. 1,550 sailors drowned, prompting the British government to offer a 20,000 pound prize for anyone who could figure out a way to accurately determine longitude at sea.

recreation of Ptolemy's world map
Recreation of Ptolemy’s world map

The lack of knowledge and inability to make good measurements rendered even the best early maps of the world objectively terrible.

Here we have a reconstruction of Ptolemey’s world map, based on the geographical knowledge of AD 150, and Al Idrisi’s map drawn for Roger II of Sicily in 1154. Idrisi did a good job depicting Sicily, but nearby Italy is a complete mess, and he duplicates Ptolemy’s mistake of essentially depicting India as a big island (actually, probably confusion between the size of India vs. the size of Sri Lanka,) and Ptolemy’s complete confusion about the angle of Africa’s east coast.

Tabula Rogeriana, created by Al-Idrisi
Tabula Rogeriana, created by Al-Idrisi

Al Idrisi did know about the Pacific ocean and the east Coast of China, which Ptolemy did not, but his geography of Denmark and Britain are worse than Ptolemy’s, despite having been based in Europe while working.The lack of advancement in geographic knowledge available in the Mediterranean over 1,000 years is striking (though I would not be surprised to find out that folks were working with much better maps of local currents and shoals in their areas than their ancestors had been using in Ptolemy’s time.)

Gangnido map
Gangnido map

On the other side of the world, Chinese and Korean maps show a similar pattern. The Gangnido (aka Kangnido,) map of 1402, created in Korea, shows Korea, China, the Arabian Peninsula, and Africa. I think India is very slightly projecting from the lower-left side of the China blob, with Sri Lanka a bit more properly sized than on Ptolemy’s map.

The Gangnido map is based on an earlier Chinese map, the Da Ming Hun Yi Tu of 1398, which is very similar, but might have the Malay Peninsula.

Now, you might be thinking, as I did, that “Africa” and “Arabia” look a lot like India on this map. Wikipedia assures us that they aren’t and offers this explanation, especially since it is difficult for us non-Koreans to read the map: 300px-KangnidoPoliticalDetails

But the total lack of a Malay peninsula is really confusing, as I assume anyone traveling from China to India would be quite are of this enormous detour in their way. It’s like drawing a map of Europe and leaving off Spain.

These maps show the difficulties of trying to compile one map out of many, as your maps may use vastly different scales. The Gangnido and Da Ming Hun Yi Tu maps combine information compiled from Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mongolian (the Mongol empire collected maps from all of its conquered nations,) and Islamic sources, eg, the voyages of Ibn Battuta.

I have noticed that no matter which explorer of south Asia we are talking about, whether Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Zheng He, or the Polynesians, none of them seem to have made it to Australia.

Neither do any of these early (1400s or before) maps seem to show Australia–in other words, the Chinese (and Koreans) were drawing recognizable maps of Africa and Europe before Australia.

Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543
Guillaume Brouscon world map, 1543

European portolan charts appeared, seemingly ex nihilo, in the 13th century. The portolans used compass directions plus sailing directions to estimate distances between map points, thus producing a revolution in map accuracy. The compass roses are drawn directly onto the map for navigational convenience, as on this “Dieppe map” by Guillaume Brouscon, 1543.

It is getting late, so I am going to have to continue this on Thursday, when we will discuss the Dieppe maps in some depth. But let me know if you catch the most curious thing about them. ;)



Pictures from Oceana / Indonesia / Polynesia etc.

Lots of megaliths:

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.
Haʻamonga ʻa Maui, a stone trilithon on the Tongan island of Tongatapu.

Haʻamonga ʻa Maui was built in the early 1200s (the talk page says 1300s); each of its three slabs weighs at least 30-40 tons.

“Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan,[1] as tribes whose natives were thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago – into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. … In the mid-2nd millennium BC a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. … Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa.[2] In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed. The Polynesians are then believed to have spread eastward from the Samoan Islands into the Marquesas, the Society Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island; and south to New Zealand. The pattern of settlement also extended to the north of Samoa to the Tuvaluan atolls, with Tuvalu providing a stepping stone to migration into the Polynesian Outlier communities in Melanesia and Micronesia.[3][4][5]” (source) (bold mine)


Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island
Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island (source)
In't it cute?
Palindo, a megalith in Lore Lindu National Park, Indonesia

“Various archaeological studies have dated the carvings from between 3000 BC to 1300 AD.[4]

Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915
Megalith being transported on Nias Island, Indonesia, circa 1915

“The story has it that it took 525 people three days to erect this stone in the village of Bawemataloeo. (P. Boomgaard, 2001)” (source)

Wikipedia claims that Nias is a popular surfing and tourist destination, but beware that, “… transport links on and to the island have become poor. Internally, the road system is in a very bad condition. Externally the air and ferry links are unreliable. There are two ferry terminals (Gunungsitoli and Teluk Dalam) and an airport (Binaka, near G. Sitoli[6]) on the island, serviced mainly from Sibolga and Medan respectively. However, local ferry companies regularly go out of business (or their boats sink), so only one terminal may be active at any given time. Since the 2005 earthquake, transportation has improved to cope with the increase in travel needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts.”

Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935
Toraja monolith, Indonesia, circa 1935


A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch
A group of headhunters on the isle of Nias, now part of Indonesia, surrendering to the Dutch

Elsewhere in Indonesia, “Ritual cannibalism was well documented among pre-colonial Batak people, being performed in order to strengthen the eater’s tendi.[2] In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.”

Marco Polo claims, “They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them…And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway.[7]

There’s some debate on just how much cannibalism the Batak were engaged in. “Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh… Raffles stated that “It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work,” and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”[11]”

But, “German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called “Battaer”):

“People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work…They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.” “

“Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. … von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict of the community and were not thinking of revenge.[14]”

Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regents assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners.”[15]

“Samuel Munson and Henry Lyman, American Baptist missionaries to the Batak, were cannibalized in 1834. … In 1890 the Dutch colonial government banned cannibalism in the regions under their control.[18] Rumors of Batak cannibalism survived into the early 20th century but it seems probable that the custom was rare after 1816, due partially to the influence of Islam.[19]”

Debating exactly how much cannibalism was going on seems to miss the big picture.

Traditional house, Nias
Traditional house, Nias
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja
Funerary Monoliths, Toraja

“Each monolith here memorializes a particular deceased person, although – since the standing stones are neither carved nor signed – the person’s name may be soon forgotten. The buildings in the background, at the base of the hill, were erected as temporary pavilions for the funeral celebrations; they may eventually be reused here, disassembled and re-erected nearby, kept up for tourist visits, or left to deteriorate, depending on local condition.” (source)

Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja
Carved stone burial site, with effigies of the deceased, Toraja

“In Toraja society, the funeral ritual is the most elaborate and expensive event. … The death feast of a nobleman is usually attended by thousands and lasts for several days. … The ceremony is often held weeks, months, or years after the death so that the deceased’s family can raise the significant funds needed to cover funeral expenses. … During the waiting period, the body of the deceased is wrapped in several layers of cloth and kept under the tongkonan. …

“Slaughtering tens of water buffalo and hundreds of pigs using a machete is the climax of the elaborate death feast, with dancing and music and young boys who catch spurting blood in long bamboo tubes. … As with the sacrifice of the buffalo and the pigs, the cockfight is considered sacred because it involves the spilling of blood on the earth. … it is common for at least 25 pairs of chickens to be set against each other in the context of the ceremony.

“… The wealthy are often buried in a stone grave carved out of a rocky cliff. The grave is usually expensive and takes a few months to complete. In some areas, a stone cave may be found that is large enough to accommodate a whole family. A wood-carved effigy, called Tau tau, is usually placed in the cave looking out over the land.[30] The coffin of a baby or child may be hung from ropes on a cliff face or from a tree. This hanging grave usually lasts for years, until the ropes rot and the coffin falls to the ground.

“In the ritual called Ma’Nene, that takes place each year in August, the bodies of the deceased are exhumed to be washed, groomed and dressed in new clothes.[31] The mummies are then walked around the village.[32]”


Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia
Traditional house, Toraja, Indonesia

Indonesia has some nice looking temples, called Candi:

8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
8th century Sewu Temple compound, Indonesia
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Borobudur Temple, 9th century
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Map showing the locations of candis built during the Indonesian Classical Period
Prambanan complex, 9th century
Prambanan complex, 9th century


Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
Punden berundak, traditional megalithic monument of Indonesia
10th century candi, photo by Dany13
10th century candi, photo by Dany13

As far as I can gather–though this is somewhat iffy because some of the sources sounded speculative and some of them that seemed better weren’t in English, and I couldn’t figure out what language they were in in order to translate them, but anyway–Indonesia has an ancient tradition of building “step pyramids” out of rocks, which morphed over time into building these big candi stupas, with some Hindu and Buddhist influence along the way.

I haven’t found many good pics of the ancient sites; one supposed ancient site appears to be a bunch of naturally-occurring basalt that people might have moved around, but the Wikipedia page on it sounded so questionable, I opted not to include it. (Again, there was a page that looked better, but was not in English.)

The ruined city of Nan Madol, Pohnpei island, Micronesia
The ruined city of Nan Madol, built in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei island, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol, constructed in the ocean off the coast of Pohnpei, Micronesia
Map of Nan Madol

Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that The Federated States of Micronesia’s laws and legal institutions are “uninterestingly similar to [those of Western countries]”. However, it explains that “law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system”.”  …

“The people [of Micronesia] today form many ethnicities, but are all descended from and belong to the Micronesian culture. The Micronesian culture was one of the last native cultures of the region to develop. It developed from a mixture of Melanesians, Polynesians, and Filipinos. Because of this mixture of descent, many of the ethnicities of Micronesia feel closer to some groups in Melanesia, Polynesia or the Philippines. A good example of this are the Yapese who are related to Austronesian tribes in the Northern Philippines.[25] A 2011 survey found that 93.1% of Micronesian are Christians.[26]” (source)

Speaking of Micronesia:

Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Island, Micronesia
Castle Bravo blast, Bikini Atoll, Micronesia

“The islands of Bokonijien, Aerokojlol, and Nam were vaporized during nuclear tests that occurred there.”

Economy: “Additional money comes in from government grants, mostly from the United States, and the $150 million the US paid into a trust fund for reparations of residents of Bikini Atoll that had to move after nuclear testing.”

Apparently the radiation fallout affected some nearby islands, where a bunch of people got radiation poisoning and had to move. (Some Japanese fishermen, who hadn’t been warned about top-secret military testing, got killed by the blast.)

“Most residents of Micronesia can freely move to, and work within, the United States.”

“The roughly 3000 residents of the Federated States of Micronesia that reside in Kapingamarangi, nicknamed ‘Kapings’, are both one of the most remote and most difficult people to visit in Micronesia and the entire world. Their home atoll is almost a 1000-mile round trip to the nearest point of immigration check-in and check-out. There are no regular flights. The only way to legally visit is to first check-in, travel on a high-speed sailboat to the atoll, and then backtrack almost 500 miles. Owing to this difficulty, only a handful of the few sailors that travel across the Pacific will attempt to visit.”

It looks like an amoeba

Technically, both Bhutan and North Sentinel Island sound harder to get to (and North Korea?) but point taken.

I was wondering if Indonesians knew about Australia (it seems like they would have,) and it turns out that at least some of them did: “Fishing fleets began to visit the northern coasts of Australia from Makassar (formerly Ujung Pandang) in southern Sulawesi, from about 1720, but possibly earlier. While Campbell Macknight’s classic study of the Makassan trepang industry accepts the start of the industry as about 1720, with the earliest recorded trepang voyage made in 1751,[5] Regina Ganter of Griffith University notes a Sulawesi historian who suggests a commencement date for the industry of about 1640.[6] Ganter also notes that for some anthropologists, the extensive impact of the trepang industry on the Yolngu people suggests a longer period of contact. Arnhem land rock art, recorded by archaeologists in 2008, appears to provide further evidence of Makassan contact in the mid-1600s.[7]


Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).
Luritja man, Australia, demonstrating a method of attacking with a boomerang (1920).

Prehistoric Australia is known primarily for its nomadic hunter-gatherers, but they did build some permanent or semi-permanent stone houses and other structures, eg:

Ancient Aborigine stone house, Heword Lake Condah Ruins
Remains of 1,700 year old Aboriginal stone house, Lake Condah Ruins
Lake Condah  Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works
Lake Condah Ruins Of Ancient Aboriginal Engineering Drainage Works

More about the Lake Condah stone houses.

The website Trans-Pacific Project wonders if Polynesians made contact (and trade) with the Americas:

Did Polynesians make it to the Americas?

Don’t forget possible Melanesian DNA in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest.

They don't move them very often.
Rai stone, used as currency on the island of Yap
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat
Hawaiian multi-hulled boat

“On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a hand-drawn Chart of the islands within 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra’iatea. Tupaia had knowledge of 130 islands and named 74 on his Chart.[47] Tupaia had navigated from Ra’iatea in short voyages to 13 islands. He had not visited western Polynesia, as since his grandfather’s time the extent of voyaging by Raiateans has diminished to the islands of eastern Polynesia. His grandfather and father had passed to Tupaia the knowledge as to the location of the major islands of western Polynesia and the navigation information necessary to voyage to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.” (source)

James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti
James Cook witnessing human sacrifice in Tahiti

“The Samoan Crisis was a confrontation standoff between the United States, Imperial Germany and Great Britain from 1887–1889 over control of the Samoan Islands during the Samoan Civil War. The incident involved three American warships, USS Vandalia, USS Trenton and USS Nipsic and three German warships, SMS Adler, SMS Olga, and SMS Eber, keeping each other at bay over several months in Apia harbour, which was monitored by the British warship HMS Calliope.

“The standoff ended on 15 and 16 March when a cyclone wrecked all six warships in the harbour.” (source)


Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Ratu Tanoa Visawaqa, Fijian chieftan
Fijian mountain warrior
Fijian mountain warrior

Pottery art from Fijian towns shows that Fiji was settled before or around 3500 to 1000 BC, although the question of Pacific migration still lingers. It is believed that the Lapita people or the ancestors of the Polynesians settled the islands first but not much is known of what became of them after the Melanesians arrived…”

“Constant warfare and cannibalism between warring tribes were quite rampant and very much part of everyday [Fijian] life.[22] During the 19th century, Ratu Udre Udre is said to have consumed 872 people and to have made a pile of stones to record his achievement.[23] According to Deryck Scarr (“A Short History of Fiji”, 1984, page 3), “Ceremonial occasions saw freshly killed corpses piled up for eating. ‘Eat me!’ was a proper ritual greeting from a commoner to a chief.” Scarr also reported that the posts that supported the chief’s house or the priest’s temple would have sacrificed bodies buried underneath them, with the rationale that the spirit of the ritually sacrificed person would invoke the gods to help support the structure, and “men were sacrificed whenever posts had to be renewed” (Scarr, page 3). Also, when a new boat, or drua, was launched, if it was not hauled over men as rollers, crushing them to death, “it would not be expected to float long” (Scarr, page 19). Fijians today regard those times as “na gauna ni tevoro” (time of the devil). The ferocity of the cannibal lifestyle deterred European sailors from going near Fijian waters, giving Fiji the name Cannibal Isles; as a result, Fiji remained unknown to the rest of the world.[24]”


Remember, folks, whites are the most evil people to ever walk the face of the earth, and indigenous native peoples were all peaceful, non-violent matriarchists:

Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)
Link to the original article (warning, it is on Salon.)

“The future of life on the planet depends on bringing the 500-year rampage of the white man to a halt. For five centuries his ever more destructive weaponry has become far too common. His widespread and better systems of exploiting other humans and nature dominate the globe. The time for replacing white supremacy with new values is now.”

What kind of non-white values ? Cannibalism? Burkas? Living without white technology like vaccines, antibiotics, and telephones?

“And just as some whites played a part in ending slavery, colonialism, Jim Crow segregation, and South African apartheid, there is surely a role whites can play in restraining other whites in this era.”

LOL what? Who, exactly, fought and died in the Civil War? A bunch of white people, you ass. Who put a stop to the slave trade in Africa? The English. (and probably the French, Dutch, etc.) Who stopped cannibalism throughout the world? Americans, Dutch, English, French, and missionaries from the world’s great religions–Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. (The influence of the last three on the bulk of Indonesia seems obvious enough.) Whites don’t have a monopoly on greatness, but the claim that whites have done nothing for the planet is not only ignorant bullshit, but displays a profound ignorance of and refusal to learn about the histories and cultures of the entire non-white part of the world.

Normally, SJWs might deem spouting astonishingly ignorant nonsense about non-whites “racist,” but so long as your ignorance is being used to attack whites, then obviously everything is peachy keen and you’re worthy of publication on a major liberal website.

The sunken continent of Zealandia
The sunken continent of Zealandia

“Pre-European Māori had no distance weapons except for tao (spears)[14] and the introduction of the musket had an enormous impact on Māori warfare. Tribes with muskets would attack tribes without them, killing or enslaving many.[15] As a result, guns became very valuable and Māori would trade huge quantities of goods for a single musket. From 1805 to 1843 the Musket Wars raged until a new balance of power was achieved after most tribes had acquired muskets. In 1835, the peaceful Moriori of the Chatham Islands were attacked, enslaved, and nearly exterminated by mainland Ngāti Mutunga and Ngāti Tama Māori.[16] In the 1901 census, only 35 Moriori were recorded although the numbers subsequently increased.” (source)

Maori people
Maori people

“During the Musket wars, it has been estimated that the total number of the Māori population dropped from about 100,000 in 1800 to between 50,000 and 80,000 at the end of the wars in 1843. The 1856–1857 census of Māori, which gives a figure of 56,049, suggests the lower number of around 50,000 is perhaps more accurate. … the Maori suffered high mortality rates for new Eurasian infectious diseases, such as influenza, smallpox and measles, which killed an unknown number of Māori: estimates vary between ten and fifty percent.” (source)

Model of fortified Maori town
Model of fortified Maori town

“Initial contact between Māori and Europeans proved problematic, sometimes fatal, with several accounts of Europeans being cannibalised.[35] … In the Boyd Massacre in 1809, Māori took hostage and killed 66 members of the crew and passengers in apparent revenge for the captain’s whipping the son of a Māori chief. Given accounts of cannibalism in this attack, shipping companies and missionaries kept a distance and significantly reduced contact with the Māori for several years.” (source)



Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is "Filipino" spelled with an F?)
Traditional tattoos on a Filipino man, Bontoc people (why is “Filipino” spelled with an F?)

“The realm of legend suggests that Ui-te-Rangiora around the year 650, led a fleet of Waka Tīwai south until they reached, “a place of bitter cold where rock-like structures rose from a solid sea”,[21] The brief description appears to match the Ross Ice Shelf or possibly the Antarctic mainland,[22] but may just be a description of icebergs and Pack Ice found in the Southern Ocean[23][24]

“Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.[32]

“Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with the West Pacific Flyway. A voyage from Tahiti, the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands to New Zealand might have followed the migration of the long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) just as the voyage from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi would coincide with the track of the Pacific golden plover (Pluvialis fulva) and the bristle-thighed curlew (Numenius tahitiensis). It is also believed that Polynesians employed shore-sighting birds as did many seafaring peoples. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird (Fregata) with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe.

“For navigators near the equator celestial navigation is simplified since the whole celestial sphere is exposed. Any star that passes the zenith (overhead) is on the celestial equator, the basis of the equatorial coordinate system. The stars are known by their declination, and when they rise or set they determine a bearing for navigation. For example, in the Caroline Islands Mau Piailug taught natural navigation using a star compass. The development of “sidereal compasses” has been studied[33] and theorized to have developed from an ancient pelorus.[32]

“It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. Many of the habitable areas of the Pacific Ocean are groups of islands (or atolls) in chains hundreds of kilometers long. Island chains have predictable effects on waves and on currents. Navigators who lived within a group of islands would learn the effect various islands had on their shape, direction, and motion and would have been able to correct their path in accordance with the changes they perceived. When they arrived in the vicinity of a chain of islands they were unfamiliar with, they may have been able to transfer their experience and deduce that they were nearing a group of islands. Once they had arrived fairly close to a destination island, they would have been able to pinpoint its location by sightings of land-based birds, certain cloud formations, as well as the reflections shallow water made on the undersides of clouds. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in “canoe-days” or a similar type of expression.[32]”

“The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods.[34] To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.” (source)

New Zealand: where prehistoric migrations and historic migrations meet

… There were, however, some societies, like those in the Pacific, which developed in extreme geographical isolation, since less than one percent of the Pacific is land. For hundreds of years, the Pacific sat apart from the major trade routes and so the cross-fertilization of naviational ideas was limited. One result of this was that the unique navigation methods that were developed in the Pacific remain distinct and different to this day. –Tristan Gooley, The Natural Navigator

The Pacific is also the last (major) region of Earth to be settled. We figured out how to survive on the polar sea ice thousands of years before we figured out long-distance ocean navigation. Humans didn’t arrive in New Zealand until sometime around 1250-1300 AD, (which means they got to Hawaii and Easter Island–one of the mot geographically isolated places in the world–before New Zealand.) Or to put it another way, less time passed between the Maori settling New Zealand and Columbus arriving Cuba than between Columbus and the American Revolution. (This is even more remarkable when you consider that humans arrived in Australia 40-50,000 years ago.)

I found one in English

The short version of all of this, as we’ve been discussing, is that the Melanesians (who, as their name indicates, have a lot of melanin,) spread out along the southern coast of Asia following the Out-of-Africa event, settling in the Andaman Islands, modern Indonesia, PNG, and eventually Australia.

After that, they basically stopped. The distances between their islands and the next islands were too great for Melanesian technology, and the islands they had were probably pretty nice compared to taking their chances out in the open waves just to hope they might make landfall on some tiny speck hundreds or thousands of miles away.

About 32,000 years later, a group of Taiwanese folks (probably also descended from Melanesians,) developed some better boats and navigational technologies and set out to discover the Pacific.

Micronesian "stick chart" for mapping ocean swells and currents (National Geographic)
Micronesian “stick chart” for mapping ocean swells and currents (National Geographic)

(Interestingly, they also went in the opposite direction, across the Indian ocean, and settled in Madagascar.) The Polynesians who eventually landed in New Zealand are among their descendants.


Getting to Indonesia does not seem to have posed much of a problem for ancient man, since Homo Erectus got there even before h. Sapiens, a good 1.5 million years ago. Lower sea levels probably made this easier than it would be today, by linking up a lot of the islands to the mainland.

(I believe Indonesia is actually located on a sinking magmatic “cool spot” that is essentially drawing the whole region downward, leaving only the tips of its mountains above water; southern Africa is located over a rising magmatic warm spot, lifting the crust in that area.) But the movements of large chunks of crust across the mantle are beyond our temporal scope; we just want to know what Indonesia, PNG, and Australia looked like during the Ice Ages:

Indonesia and Australia during the Ice Age
Indonesia and Australia during the Ice Age

This still requires boats to cross, but it’s not too complicated a voyage. New Zealand, though, is right out. You’re not getting to New Zealand this way–the ocean currents are against you. I suspect it’s easier to get to NZ from the middle of the Pacific–as people actually did–than from Australia.