FAMED for their epic navigational feats, the Polynesians may have sailed a lot farther than anyone suspected. Two researchers have found limited but intriguing evidence that suggests these mariners made it to Southern California between AD 400 and AD 800.
While they were here, they passed along their boat-building technology to the local Chumash and Gabrielino Indians, according to Terry Jones, anthropology professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Kathryn Klar, a UC Berkeley lecturer, whose research appeared in the peer-reviewed journal American Antiquity.
Unlike the dugout canoes and rafts used by other Native Americans, the Chumash and Gabrielinos built sturdy Polynesian-style plank canoes, which allowed them to sail longer distances and fish in the deep sea. Klar found a Polynesian connection in the word for the vessel. The Chumash term for the "sewn-plank canoe," tomolo'o, unrelated to any other in the language, is linguistically connected to the Polynesian tumuRaa'au, as is the Gabrielino term for the plank boat. The researchers also found Chumash fish hooks are dead ringers for Polynesian models.