Early Knowledge of Iron in the Pacific

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    Abstract

    MR. T. A. RICKABD'S communication on “The Knowledge and Use of Iron among the South Sea Islanders”, read before the Royal Anthropological Institute on Jan. 12, offered what may be regarded as a highly probable explanation of the fact noted by early navigators, that while the inhabitants of some of the islands showed themselves eager to obtain iron, in other islands they were indifferent. It is recorded, for example, by Wallis, Cook, and others that in the Sandwich Islands, Tonga, and Tahiti the natives were prepared to go to any lengths to get iron, whereas in New Zealand and the New Hebrides they showed no such desire. Mr. Rickard finds the clue to the explanation of this difference in statements in Mindana, a Spanish explorer, who in 1567 saw “a chisel made into a nail” in the Marshall Islands, and of a native historian of Hawaii, who in 1867 said that the Hawaiians recognised iron on Cook's ship because they “had found iron in sticks washed up on the land”. Thus iron would appear to have become known in various parts of the Pacific through having been washed up in driftwood. The effect of drift in the distribution of culture in the Pacific is a subject which stands in need of closer investigation, especially in relation to the various theories of culture-distribution in that area which have been put forward. Drift has been suggested, for example, as probably an element entering into the distribution of the coconut, and some years ago the late Sir Henry Howorth was inclined to think that the adoption of red as the royal colour in Hawaii and other parts of the Pacific might have been derived from the use of that colour by the Buddhists in China and Tibet, and carried thence to the Pacific by Chinese junks which had drifted, or been driven, out of their course.

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    Early Knowledge of Iron in the Pacific. Nature 129, 124 (1932) doi:10.1038/129124a0

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