Study questions date of Maori arrival in NZ

Dr Paul Moon. Photo / Daily Post
Dr Paul Moon. Photo / Daily Post

Research showing Maori may have reached New Zealand later than previously believed may have implications for the Waitangi Tribunal, a New Zealand historian says.

In the study "High-precision radiocarbon dating shows recent and rapid initial human colonization of East Polynesia", published yesterday in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by Janet Wilmshurst from New Zealand's Landcare Research, more than 1400 radiocarbon dates were analysed from 47 Pacific islands. The results indicate New Zealand was first colonised by humans between 1210 and 1385 AD.

AUT University History Professor, Paul Moon said the study might have "far-reaching implications for Maori oral history".

Maori oral histories which recall lists of ancestors have been used to date the first arrival in New Zealand as early as 800 AD, Dr Moon said.

"If these Maori whakapapa [genealogies] are out by over five hundred years, then this must raise questions about their reliability.

"If Maori reached New Zealand waters just 300 years before the first Europeans, some people might also start to reconsider the idea of Maori being indigenous. It could be interpreted as a different type of 'indigenous' from the sort that applies to peoples who inhabited countries exclusively for thousands of years. This would be an unfortunate conclusion to draw, but is something that might have to be faced."

Dr Moon said the study could also impact on the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, which has accepted evidence of a much earlier settlement date.

"Ironically, the mid-fourteenth century date for the first arrival of Maori in New Zealand was widely accepted up until the 1950s, when academics challenged it on the basis of Maori whakapapa, and shunted back the date by hundreds of years. Now, it looks like it will have to be dragged forward again".

However, Api Mahuika of Ngati Porou told Radio New Zealand he did not think the study was the last word in scientific research on New Zealand settlement and would continue to believe in the oral tradition.

- NZ HERALD STAFF

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