For nearly five million years man has been on the move. Like migratory birds and animals, he has followed the seasons, driven by an insatiable curiosity and the eternal hunt for food. Of all of the obstructions he has faced on the way the sea has been his most challenging, but his determination and ingenuity even took care of that: an achievement that stands alongside the mastery over fire as the first of his most significant technological triumphs.
It is the conquest of the water barrier that has inspired the movement we call The First Mariners and to pay tribute to the people who first overcame the challenge of the sea by reaching back into time and by employing experimental archaeology to reconstruct their watercraft and their voyages; to become as close as we can to those ancient seafarers.
Our guidelines are flexible, there are no strict rules save that the components to build the craft must be as regionally authentic and that the voyages chosen are as credible as the distance of a vast time difference allows.
Seasonal winds were not much different then, but ice ages lowered and raised sea levels dramatically. Islands appeared then vanished, temperatures rose and fell. Sea currents changed with the rise and fall of sea levels.
Replicating the craft is of course out of the question since not even cave art exists that far back in time. The only science we can follow is the evolution of stone tools our ancient shipwrights deployed.
For the moment our focus is on a region where it seems obvious that the first settlers of the Wallacean Islands which stand between Australia and Eurasia would have chosen bamboo to carry them between islands and by default, the conquest of Australia.
It is of minor consequence to us that academics are ethically obliged to credit what we do as supposition. Like Creationalists and members of the Flat Earth Society, Academia has its stubborn minority who don’t that the anatomically modern people who became Europe’s first sailors had language and organization on their side, that they weren’t as ‘primitive’ as we have been led to believe because it’s easier that way. For example, the fossil record of Java in eastern Indonesia includes the 800,000-year-old remains of Homo erectus which is more or less the same dating as stone tools and hunted animal remains on the island of Flores some 200 miles to the east. Between both finds, there is a formidable strait of deep water which geologists say that in human times was always there. Did man land on the other side of that barrier by accident, by mistake, or did Homo erectus even pre-date our ‘first mariners’ by almost a million years. Some 130,000 years ago Homo sapiens reached the Greek island of Crete which had been isolated by the sea for five million years.
The challenge for the ancients to overcome such water barriers might well have been easier than it is for us who now must forget our modern boatbuilding shortcuts, our metal tools, glue, sawn timber and fiberglass high-tech which, in a way, have removed most of the danger and almost all the mystery of man’s floating relationship with the ocean.
The First Mariners projects are designed to bring this mystery back to life.