Project team recreates grass boats’ voyage of 30,000 years ago from Yonaguni Island
July 18, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo
On July 17, a research team working on a project for the National Museum of Nature and Science sailed grass boats for the first time from Yonaguni Island to the water between Taketomi Town and Iriomote Island. The project is meant to investigate routes humans 30,000 years ago traversed to come to the Japanese islands, and the team is hastening preparations to verify whether or not these humans came on grass boats. On that morning at about 7 a.m. two grass boats were launched from Kataburu-hama on the south side of Yonaguni. It was decided that the voyage was to take a break at night as the current is generally swift, and sailing would be resumed at 5 a.m. on July 18.
Rowers on the boats are residents of Yonaguni and Iriomote, with seven people in each boat. The team is aiming to have the boats traverse the hypothesized route at two kilometers per hour without the use of equipment, relying on only the sun and stars, wind’s direction, island silhouettes, and such natural indications of position. The rowers are attempting to travel 75 kilometers east to Iriomote on a direct course with accompanying boats carrying additional rowers.
The research team had hypothesized that the trip would only take 30 hours, but due to the swift current, the grass boats were swept off-course northward. In order to correct the grass boats’ course, the accompanying boats towed the grass boats and took the rowers onboard. That evening the voyage took a nighttime break.
In order to recreate the crossing that humans made 30,000 years ago, the team tied together bundles of cattails that grow naturally on Yonaguni Island into grass boats that are six meters long and one meter wide.
Yosuke Kaifu is a representative of the project team to recreate the voyage from Taiwan to the Japanese islands on one hypothesized route, and also head of the National Museum of Nature and Science human history research group. He says that the route they will travel is the most viable route. In addition, he says he hopes to verify this one possibility. His team is planning to make the over 100-kilometer voyage from Taiwan to the Japanese islands in July next year.
(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)
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