Story: When was New Zealand first settled?
Page 1 – The date debate
Out of Africa
Around 100,000 years ago humans left Africa, where they originated, and gradually spread north and east into Europe and Asia. Between 50,000 and 25,000 BC, using simple rafts, people gradually dispersed through the large islands of South-East Asia. Eventually they reached Australia and New Guinea, which were then connected by land.
About 3,200 years ago people sailed south-east from the Solomon Islands into the Pacific Ocean, and settled the islands of Melanesia. Between 1200 and 1000 BC they spread rapidly from Melanesia to Fiji and West Polynesia, including Tonga and Samoa.
The last Pacific migrations were to the distant points of Polynesia – Hawaii (600 AD), Easter Island (700 AD) and New Zealand (1250–1300 AD). They had probably reached South America by 1000 AD at the latest.
While this sequence seems rather straightforward, the exact dates and the order of settlement are debated. Experts often disagree, and there are competing theories. The date for the arrival of people in New Zealand is no exception.
Reaching New Zealand
New Zealand was one of the last habitable land masses to be settled. Migrants sailed in double-hulled canoes from East Polynesia – the last voyages in the exploration and settlement of the Pacific Islands.
Many methods have been used to determine the date when they first arrived, and when they settled. Although no single method is foolproof, all show remarkable agreement that permanent Polynesian settlement was established around 1300.
The most recent research shows that one of the oldest questions in New Zealand history is still one of the most relevant. The remarkable research findings of the past decade suggest that the story does not end here.
Most researchers agree that human arrival occurred between 1250 and 1300. But recently some researchers have dated first arrivals to as early as 50–150; these first arrivals would have either died out or sailed away.