Story: When was New Zealand first settled?

Analysis of pollen from Travis Swamp, Christchurch

Analysis of pollen from Travis Swamp, Christchurch

Plants release pollen or spores, which are blown by the wind and settle onto the surrounding land, lakes and peat bogs. By taking a core sample from a lake bed or peat swamp and looking at changes in the types of pollen and spores that have settled in different sediment layers, scientists such as Janet Wilmshurst and Matt McGlone can analyse past changes to New Zealand’s vegetation patterns. The pattern of pollen and spores from Travis Swamp and elsewhere shows a marked change from forest pollen to raupō (reed) pollen and bracken spores in the late 1200s and early 1300s. Such a dramatic change in the vegetation pattern is an indication that forests were deliberately burned by the first human settlers. They did this to make way for kūmara (sweet potato) cultivation and to encourage bracken fern growth (the underground stems were a source of food), and other reasons.

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Landcare Research – Manaaki Whenua
Diagram by Matt McGlone and Janet Wilmshurst

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How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, 'When was New Zealand first settled? - Pollen analysis', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 June 2024)

Story by Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 May 2016