PhD Studentship

PhD Studentship:

Colonising the Last Place on Earth: Quantifying Polynesian Canoe Performance Under Different Climate Regimes
University of Southampton -Engineering and the Environment

open until filled, apply today!

The Pacific Islands of Polynesia were the last part of the earth’s surface to be colonised by humans. Recent analysis of the dates of colonisation indicates that this occurred in phases, with the main migrations occurring as far east as Samoa/Tonga and Fiji by ~800B.C. Colonisation of islands further to the east occurred after an hiatus of ~1800 years. The reasons for this hiatus are subject to speculation, with current arguments ranging from climatic deterioration to technical barriers resulting from canoe sailing performance that where only resolved later as design improvements evolved. This research centres on a hypothesis that the sailing performance of Polynesian canoes during the period ~ 800 BC – ~1015 A.D. restricted further eastward migration. The key aim of the research is to determine whether technical barriers prevented movement of humans between islands during the c.1000 year hiatus in migration. It is intended that the research will allow for:

1.  Development of realistic models of ocean going canoe hull designs and sail characteristics from the period of early colonisation.

2.  Establishment of canoe hull hydrodynamic and sail aerodynamic performance under a range of wind and wave climate conditions.

3.  Determination of probable wind and wave climate conditions during different phases of colonisation.

4.  Modelling of route optimisation under different wind/wave climates representative of different phases of colonisation.

5.  Identification of specific wind/wave climates that optimised voyaging between key island destinations (e.g. Cook Islands, Society Islands, Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier, Rapu Nui (Easter Island), Hawaii, New Zealand).

The supervisory team will include naval architects, geographers and maritime archaeologists. The candidate should have a degree in an applied science (e.g. physics or oceanography) or a mechanical engineering discipline (e.g. naval architecture/aeronautics/mechanical).

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr James Blake, Fluid-Structure Interactions research group, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 2380 59 9544