Rat bones show first New Zealanders settled 700 years ago

June 3rd, 2008 - 11:36 am ICT by IANS  

Wellington, June 3 (DPA) Humans first settled in New Zealand around the late 13th century and not more than 2,000 years ago as had been thought, according to research published Tuesday that used radiocarbon dating on rat bones. The research in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences rejected earlier radiocarbon dating suggesting the first migrants arrived about 200 BC.

A team of international researchers led by Janet Wilmshurst of New Zealand’s Landcare Research spent four years studying bones of the Pacific rat, known to the indigenous Maori people as kiore, and native seeds the animals gnawed.

They said earlier research published in the journal Nature in 1996 that dated rat bones from about 200 BC was faulty and re-examination suggested they originated in the period 1280 to 1300 AD.

“As the Pacific rat or kiore cannot swim very far, it can only have arrived in New Zealand with people on board their canoes, either as cargo or stowaways,” Wilmshurst said.

“Therefore, the earliest evidence of the Pacific rat in New Zealand must indicate the arrival of people,” she said.

Wilmshurst said the new dating of rat bones was supported by examination of more than 100 woody seeds with distinctive telltale bite marks, which had been preserved in peat and swamp sites on both New Zealand’s main islands.

According to Maori legend, the Polynesian people came to New Zealand on a fleet of large canoes from their mythical Pacific homeland of Hawaiki.

Wilmshurst said the new radiocarbon dating was consistent with other evidence suggesting the Maoris arrived in the late 13th century, including the oldest dated archaeological sites, oral legends, widespread forest clearance by fire and the start of declining populations of marine and land-based fauna.

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