Story: When was New Zealand first settled?

Gnawed seed

Gnawed seed

As seeds are easily radiocarbon-dated, researchers such as Janet Wilmshurst have looked at fossil seed cases that show rats’ tooth marks, and those that do not. If a rat-gnawed seed case was dated much earlier than 1250–1300 (the accepted date for human settlement) this would support the theory that there was earlier, transient human arrival in New Zealand, via which the rat also arrived. So far, no gnawed seed cases have been found that date older than 1244 (± 70 years) AD, suggesting that the rats were not present before then. The seed case dates were confirmed by the presence of dated volcanic ash layers above and below the seed cases.

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Landcare Research – Manaaki Whenua
Photograph by Janet Wilmshurst

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How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, 'When was New Zealand first settled? - Rat DNA', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/photograph/3625/gnawed-seed (accessed 18 November 2019)

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