Story: When was New Zealand first settled?

Page 1. The date debate

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Out of Africa

Around 100,000 years ago humans left Africa, where they originated, and gradually spread north and east into Europe and Asia. Between 50,000 and 25,000 BCE, using simple rafts, people gradually dispersed through the large islands of South-East Asia. Eventually they reached Australia and New Guinea, which were then connected by land.

About 3,000 years ago people sailed south-east from the Solomon Islands further into the Pacific Ocean, and settled most of the islands of Melanesia. Between 1100 and 800 BCE they spread rapidly to Fiji and West Polynesia, including Tonga and Samoa.

The last Pacific migrations, between 1200 and 1300 CE, were to the distant points of Polynesia – Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand (1250–1300 CE). Evidence that they reached South America several centuries before Europeans did so is inconclusive.

While this sequence seems rather straightforward, the exact dates and the order of settlement are debated. Experts often disagree, and there are competing theories. The date for the arrival of people in New Zealand is no exception.

Reaching New Zealand

New Zealand was one of the last habitable land masses to be settled. Migrants sailed in double-hulled canoes from East Polynesia – the last major voyages in the exploration and settlement of the Pacific Islands.

Many methods have been used to determine the date when they first arrived, and when they settled. Although no single method is foolproof, all show remarkable agreement that permanent Polynesian settlement was established around 1300.

How to cite this page:

Geoff Irwin and Carl Walrond, 'When was New Zealand first settled? - The date debate', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 May 2024)

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