Ancient facts unfold

ANCIENT DISCOVERY: Shipwreck explorer Noel Hilliam claims he found this rudder pintel from a caravel dated 1590 on the Kaipara's west coast.
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ANCIENT DISCOVERY: Shipwreck explorer Noel Hilliam claims he found this rudder pintel from a caravel dated 1590 on the Kaipara's west coast.
CICILLIA MARIA: Noel Hilliam believes this plank of wood dated 1556 found off the west coast of the Kaipara is from the Spanish sailing ship Cicillia Maria that was lost out at sea and never found.
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CICILLIA MARIA: Noel Hilliam believes this plank of wood dated 1556 found off the west coast of the Kaipara is from the Spanish sailing ship Cicillia Maria that was lost out at sea and never found.
MAP OF NZ: The map which says New Zealand was discovered by Tasman in 1642 but what's amazing about this map is that it says East Cape Shown as a Portuguese discovery in 1550 on it's horizontal axis.
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MAP OF NZ: The map which says New Zealand was discovered by Tasman in 1642 but what's amazing about this map is that it says East Cape Shown as a Portuguese discovery in 1550 on it's horizontal axis.
MAP UP CLOSE: On closer inspection staff from Fairfax realised that the words on the maps vertical axis does not align with what was written on it's horizontal axis. It states the Eastern Coast was known to the Portuguese about the year 1350.
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MAP UP CLOSE: On closer inspection staff from Fairfax realised that the words on the maps vertical axis does not align with what was written on it's horizontal axis. It states the Eastern Coast was known to the Portuguese about the year 1350.

The Portuguese discovered New Zealand before Abel Tasman, shipwreck explorer Noel Hilliam says.

He says items discovered on the Kaipara's west coast support his theory.

Mr Hilliam says he's found an ancient Portuguese or Spanish sailing ship lying at the sea floor just north of Dargaville.

He cites as evidence a Spanish-style spur found in the sand dunes on the coast about 30 years ago.

He says the spur and other wrecks on the coast strengthen the theory that Portuguese explorers reached New Zealand before the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642.

He and Alvin Wilcox spotted the ship while searching for a drowned fisherman in 1981.

"The discovery was a complete fluke. We were both astonished and amazed at a completely intact ancient ship."

But the ship was completely covered in sand when Mr Hilliam went back the next day to investigate.

The two then set off to create a drawing of the ship, which was sent to maritime authority and model ship-maker Malcolm Darch in England. Mr Darch identified it as a caravel from the 1500s.

Mr Hilliam says he has seen the ship clearly several times over the years, the last time was on March 7.

He wants to recover the ship and estimates it will cost about $5.4 million to salvage, restore and house at the Dargaville Museum.

Some of the other ruins the wild west coast has spat out include a rudder pintle dated 1590, a wooden plank from 1556, the ruins of four sailing ships that he says look like ancient Portuguese or Spanish caravels.

He says he found the rudder pintle near another ancient ship wrecked on the Kaipara's west coast found in 2009.

"A section of the pintle was sent to a forensic metallurgist, who found it was made of arsenical bronze, with a date of around 1590."

In 1982 another ship which had broken up was discovered and Mr Hilliam had a plank of wood removed from it before sending it to a lab for dating.

"The laboratory identified the timber, and three independent authorities dated it to around 1560.

"An old Waitaha woman of 92 told me the ship was called the Cicillia Maria."

Mr Hilliam will not disclose the location of the shipwrecks because he says he doesn't want, "every man and his dog to go destroying evidence".

He says a documentary by British filmmakers has been made about the discoveries and is due to be shown at film festivals this year.

He hopes it will help him gather financial support for further exploration and recovery of evidence.

The documentary also includes information about two pohutukawa trees discovered in Spain that residents say were planted in the 1400s, Mr Hilliam says.

Further to his finds on the coast is an old British admiralty map which says New Zealand was discovered by the Portuguese in 1550.

Auckland University Professor Paul Moon says the discovery of the items in question does not constitute any sort of proof by itself.

"In order to link them with the possibility of a Portuguese discovery of New Zealand pre-dating Tasman, we would have to be sure of the age of the items, but more importantly, when they came into the country," Mr Moon says.

He says they could be 16th century artifacts that arrived in New Zealand in a ship in the 19th century.

"Unfortunately, it is probably almost impossible to have any evidence that they were in the country in the 16th century so they do not count as incontrovertible evidence."

And he says the British admiralty map, "proves nothing".

Dargaville News