The devastating ecological consequences of human arrival are well documented on many East Polynesian islands and show striking similarities in terms of deforestation (2) and faunal extinctions or declines (3–11), with one model suggesting dispersal from West Polynesia as early as 200 B. (1, 9, 10) after a pause of ≈500–1,000 years and another suggesting it began ≈800 A. after a delay of several thousand years (8, 12–16).
These divergent chronologies and their related models of ecological and anthropological change result directly from various interpretations of conflicting radiocarbon dates on the earliest-dated archaeological sites, deforestation, Pacific rat introduction, and faunal extinctions from East Polynesia and have created many hotly debated “long” and “short” settlement chronologies (e.g., refs. These unresolved and contradictory age models currently hinder our understanding of the timing and processes of prehistoric human dispersal from West Polynesia (17) and rates of anthropogenic environmental change, faunal extinction, population growth, technological change, development of regionality in material culture and horticultural expansion on each island (18).
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Blue circles, our reexcavations; red circles, museum collections (see Table S1 for stratigraphic and other details).
ages from previous studies (20, 21) also shown in their laboratory processing order (1995–19–1998) (40): open diamonds, archaeological sites (36); black diamonds, laughing owl sites (21), showing unusual bimodal distribution (36).
Subsequent dating of Pacific rat bones sampled from both laughing owl (32) and archaeological sites (33–38).
The most telling criticism of the original dates is that they fall into two distinct groups according to when the bones were processed in the same dating laboratory (22, 36, 37) (see Fig. The early series of rat bone dates processed in 19 are all older than the oldest-dated archaeological evidence (≈1280 A.
Overhunting contributed to widespread faunal extinctions and the decline of marine megafauna, fires destroyed lowland forests, and the introduction of the omnivorous Pacific rat () led to a new wave of predation on the biota. Radiocarbon dates on distinctive rat-gnawed seeds and rat bones show that the Pacific rat was introduced to both main islands of New Zealand ≈1280 A. This matches with the earliest-dated archaeological sites, human-induced faunal extinctions, and deforestation, implying there was no long period of invisibility in either the archaeological or palaeoecological records.
Our method exploits the fact that the omnivorous rat was transported throughout the Pacific by prehistoric people and multiplied rapidly after its initial introduction.
Consequently, introduction of rats to previously rat-free islands is unlikely to remain invisible in the palaeoecological record for any length of time.
This then suggests that the current indigenous people of New Zealand (Maori and Moriori) were neither of East Polynesian origin nor the first discoverers.
However, this is inconsistent with analyses of New Zealand Pacific rat and Maori mt DNA (26, 31).
D.), but all bones dated after 1996 are younger (36, 37) (Fig. Moreover, some rat bones from archaeological assemblages that were processed in 19 are significantly older than consistent dates on diverse materials from the same stratigraphic contexts (34, 35).