Anthropology

Island Arrivals

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Science  14 Jan 2011:
Vol. 331, Issue 6014, pp. 126
DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6014.126-a
CREDIT: JIM ZUCKERMAN/CORBIS

One of the last major human expansions was the Polynesian colonization of the South Pacific Islands, extending from New Zealand to Hawaii in the north and several remote islands thousands of kilometers to the east. This colonization had a huge impact on the flora and fauna of the region. The timing and duration of this migration have been debated, and estimates and radiocarbon dates range over thousands of years. Wilmshurst et al. assessed more than 1400 radiocarbon dates from the various islands and grouped them on the basis of which materials were analyzed and how well they represented human occupation (for example, short-lived seeds in archaeological contexts versus marine shells, which carry additional uncertainties). Their grouping of the most reliable materials and ages implies that colonization proceeded in two short episodes, first in the Society Islands from 1025 to 1120 CE, then elsewhere to the east from 1190 to 1290 CE. These ages are later and briefer than many previous assessments for this expansion.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1015876108 (2010).

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