The Tragedy of the Moriori

The Moriori were a small, isolated population of Polynesians settlers, living on the Chatham Islands. Sometime shortly after New Zealand was settled in 1000 CE, a group of them set out an settled the Chatham Islands, far to their south east. And then the Chathams were forgotten. Remote and subarctic, the Chathams did not support any of the domesticated crops the Polynesian settlers brought with them -- taro, yams, sweet potatoes, breadfruit, bananas, and coconuts. Those crops had been domesticated in a tropical climate and quickly died on the Chathams. Without agriculture, and without nearby islands to colonize and perhaps get more food from, the Chathams were capable of supporting only about 2,000 hunter-gatherers.

So the Moriori learned to get along with each other. They renounced war. Chiefs remained, technically, but they caught their own food and lived in huts which were identical to everyone else. To prevent overpopulation, some male infants were castrated. All of these measures worked quite well, and the Moriori had a sustainable population from about 1300 CE, when it was settled, until November 19th, 1835.

Earlier in 1835, an Australian seal-hunting ship visited the Chatham Islands en route to New Zealand, and brought news to New Zealand of islands where "there is an abundance of sea and shellfish; the lakes swarm with eels; and it is a land of the karaka berry...the inhabitants are very numerous, but they do not understand how to fight, and have no weapons." That was enough to induce 900 Maori to sail to the Chathams. They arrived on November 19th, 1835. Another 400 arrived on December 5th. Armed with clubs, axes, and guns the warrior Maori walked through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing anyone who openly disagreed.

The Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council to not fight back, but to offer the Maori peace, friendship, and a division of resources. The offer was never made. The Maori attacked first. Over the course of the next few days the Maori systematically killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of them, and enslaved the rest. A Maori conqueror explained: "We took possession...in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. No one escaped." And so the Moriori ended.


"It is harder to make one’s name by means of a perfect work than to win praise for a second-rate one by means of the name one has already acquired."

Jean de La Bruyère (1645 - 1696), a French philosopher and moralist who was famous for his satire

Dutchman Cornelius Drebbel invented the first working submarine, under the patronage of James I of England -- in 1620.

Early Modern Spies Relied On -- Artichokes?

In 1656, a female spy in England wrote a letter to her brother, living in exile in Antwerp, asking him to communicate with her via artichoke. She feared their letters were being intercepted, broken into and sealed up again with counterfeit seals before being sent on their way. She urged caution: only ‘let mee know your minde – By the olde way [,] the hartichockes [,] as soone as you cane’. A researcher, Dr. Nadine Akkerman of Leiden University,  happened across this letter when researching 17th-century female spies in western Europe. Dr. Akkerman decided to do a test. Her team figured out that globe artichoke juice, if prepared right, could be used as invisible ink! All our would-be spies needed were artichokes, a quill, and a candle.

Jamestown, The First Permanent English Settlement, May Have Had Secret Catholics

The English settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, were decidedly anti-Catholic. One reason for moving to the New World was to claim it for the Protestants. They even executed one of their leaders upon discovering that he was a Catholic spy. Clearly, it was dangerous to be a Catholic in Jamestown. For this reason, archaeologists investigating the settlement found the many rosaries that they encountered to be somewhat confusing. The Church of England was a new concept, and some proposed that the rosaries were transitional relics between the old and the new belief systems.

In 2015, another discovery suggested the opposite—a previously unknown Catholic cell in Jamestown. Underneath the town’s Protestant church was the grave of Gabriel Archer. When he died sometime between 1608 and 1610, somebody placed a silver box on his coffin. Sealed with rust, the hexagonal artifact risked damage if conventionally opened. Instead, CT scans revealed a collection inside that was common in Catholic burials. Called a reliquary, it contained bone fragments and a vial. It's discovery means that Jamestown was home to at least two secret Catholics -- Archer, and whoever put the reliquary inside his grave after his death. If there were two, there may have been more...

  One of the world's largest corals, a type of boulder coral, is alive off the coast of American Samoa's Ta'u island. It has the largest circumference of any known coral in the world. Smooth and hemispherical (ie, half a sphere), the coral is over 15 feet tall. Based on formulas of how fast boulder corals grow, and the temperature of the water where Ta'u's coral lives, scientists estimate it to be around 360 years old. Apparently, that is pretty old for a coral colony!

Virginia: Haven For LGBTQ?

In 1629, the Virginia Court recorded the first instance of gender ambiguity among the North American colonists. A servant named Thomas/Thomasine Hall was officially declared by the governor of Virginia to be both “a man and a woman.” They were ordered to wear articles of each sex’s clothing.

Orangutans are named not for the color, orange. Their name comes from the Indonesian and Malay words "orang" meaning "person" and "hutan" meaning "forest." Orangutans are forest people! The term was originally used for human beings who lived in the forest, but was given to the ape by a Dutch physician and naturalist who put it in his book in 1631.

Amazing Finds Tell Us More About How The Ancient Calusa Fed Themselves

Rare 1,000-year-old Calusa Indian artifacts, including pieces of wood, rope, and fishing net, were retrieved from a waterlogged midden located along the ancient shoreline in Florida in spring 2017. The Calusa are known to have been a complex culture, relying on shallow-water fishing in elaborate “farms” rather than agriculture or hunting. The fishing net found recently was most likely made of cabbage palm fiber, formed into ropes and tied into a pattern. Some of the knots even survive! They allowed researchers to deduce that the net was originally a grid, with squares about an inch wide. And some tied-on clamshell weights, for making the net heavy in the water, were amazingly still attached.

The midden also contained the uncooked seeds of gourd-like squash which has not been identfied. Researchers speculate could be the remains of gourds used to help the fishing net float?

Unfortunately, modern archaeologists are having to unearth (pun!) everything about the Calusa, right down to the gourds they might have grown, because no Calusa remain to tell us about themselves. They had largely disappeared by the mid-1700s, ravaged by European diseases and slaving raids by tribes who were allied to the English province of Carolina. The few remaining were evacuated to Cuba in 1763, when Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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