Story: When was New Zealand first settled?

Modern Pacific rat bones

Modern Pacific rat bones

Researchers such as Atholl Anderson have questioned whether rat bones yield reliable radiocarbon dates. They suggest that not all contaminants are removed during chemical processing – a possible reason for the early dates (50–150 AD). Other explanations for the early dates are that the soils where the bones were deposited have contaminated them, or that the rats’ diet confuses the analysis. In some circumstances old carbon in the environment can be absorbed by animals through their diet, resulting in an earlier date range. Dates on rat bones from a South Island cave site that yielded early (50–150) dates in the mid-1990s have not yet been duplicated.

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Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Photograph by Melanie Lovell-Smith

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How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, 'When was New Zealand first settled? - Rat bones', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/3620/modern-pacific-rat-bones (accessed 22 March 2019)

Story by Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 20 May 2016