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For over 2 decades, there have been calls for Polynesian archaeologists to identify radiocarbon samples to taxon and material type, and preferentially date short-lived materials.This stems from recognition that even modest amounts of inbuilt age are problematic in this oceanic region where human settlement dates to the last 3 millennia or less.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.High precision U/Th dates of Acropora coral files (abraders) from Nukuleka give unprecedented resolution, identifying the founder event by 2838±8 BP and documenting site development over the ensuing 250 years.The potential for dating error due to post depositional diagenetic alteration of ancient corals at Nukuleka also is addressed through sample preparation protocols and paired dates on spatially separated samples for individual specimens.We now test this evidence by redating new rat bones from the original dated laughing owl sites using improved AMS radiocarbon ultrafiltration pretreatment methods [supporting information (SI) and Table S1) to test the reproducibility of the original series of rat bone dates (20, 21). Symbols show location of redated laughing owl bone sites (20, 21) (blue), seed deposits (red) mentioned in text, and test pits (black) examined during the search for seed sites, but which did not contain preserved seeds.
Vertical dashed lines, 1σ age range of oldest archaeological site in New Zealand (1280–1382 A. The contentious early series of old rat bone dates (20, 21) is the only direct evidence in support of an early human presence in New Zealand. We also dated 13 rat bones selected from the same collections of bones originally excavated and now held in museum collections, representing seven of the 1995–1996 series of rat bone sampling sites (20, 21): Predator Cave, Hawke's Cave, Earthquakes #1, Gordon's Valley (sites 2a, 4, and 7), Hanging Rock, Ardenest, and Timpendean (Fig. The calibrated ages of rat bones from these museum collections are also all younger than 1280 A. and overlap only with our reexcavated rat bone dates and with other rat bone dates processed in 19 (Fig. Locations of laughing owl bone sites, seed deposits, and seed test pits in New Zealand.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).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).
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).