European exploration of New Zealand and the wider South Pacific is traditionally considered to have commenced with the documented voyages of Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in A.D. 1642 and British Captain James Cook in A.D. 1769, with no direct evidence of activity during the intervening years. Here, we report on the discovery of a shipwreck on the west coast of Northland in northern New Zealand that likely occurred during that interval. The vessel was constructed from at least two tropical hardwoods and comprises planks and rib sections, measuring c. 25–27 m long with a beam of c. 6.5–7.5 m. Radiocarbon ( 14 C) dating of contiguous decadal blocks allows us to wiggle match these dates against the Northern Hemisphere 14 C calibration curve to obtain a precise calendar age for the wood. Taking into account the missing sapwood and probable period for timber seasoning we obtain a likely construction date for the ship of around A.D. 1705 ± 9 years. The dominance of Dutch maritime trade during this time period, their known vessel construction in the tropics and the presence of copper on the hull of the wreck, all point to the likelihood of the vessel being of Dutch construction. Intriguingly, journal entries by Cook and expedition members suggest at least one other European ship visited New Zealand after Tasman but prior to his arrival. The general limited lifespan of ships at the time makes this discovery the oldest known wreck from the region. Importantly, the age of the Northland vessel probably predates the first reported European landing by Captain Cook, as well as suggesting other vessels may have attempted to follow-up on the discovery recorded by Tasman.
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