Key Points:

New research into language evolution has provided more evidence that Pacific Island populations, including Maori, originated from Taiwan thousands of years ago.

Scientists at Auckland University have used computer analyses on vocabulary from 400 "Austronesian" languages to determine how the Pacific was settled.

"The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, with 1200 languages spread across the Pacific," department of psychology professor Russell Gray said.

Settlement of the Pacific was one of the "most remarkable" expansions by prehistoric humans, he said.

"By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colours and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved.

"The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5200 years ago, and before entering the Philippines they paused for around 1000 years, then spread across 7000km from the Philippines to Polynesia."

After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused for another 1000 years before spreading further into Polynesia and eventually reaching New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island, he said.

Research fellow Simon Greenhill said the expansion could be linked to new technology, such as better canoes, and social techniques. "Using these new technologies the Austronesians and Polynesians were able to rapidly spread through the Pacific in one of the greatest human migrations ever."

Archaeological and DNA research by academics around the world has supported theories that Polynesians' ancestors migrated from Taiwan or Southeast Asia.

- NZPA