Date of Polynesia settlement refined

Nov. 15, 2012 at 8:00 PM
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BURNABY, British Columbia, Nov. 15 (UPI) -- Researchers say they've improved their dating of when the last major chapter in human colonization, the so-called Polynesian triangle, occurred.

An archaeologist at Canada's Simon Fraser University along with colleagues at the University of Queensland in Australia have narrowed down the time the first humans arrived in Polynesia, a collection of 1,000 islands forming a geographic triangle connecting Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island in the South Pacific Ocean.

The Polynesia triangle is one of the last landscapes discovered and settled by humans, the researchers said.

Simon Fraser Professor David Burley and his colleagues Marshall Weisler and Jian-Xin Zhao argue the first boats arrived between 880 and 896 B.C., a 16-year window far smaller than the previous radiocarbon-dated estimate of 178 years between 2,789 and 2,947 years ago.

Burley and his fellow scientist arrived at their date estimate by applying uranium/thorium dating to a series of coral artifacts recovered from a site in Tonga known to be the first settlement location for Polynesia.

When the results came back from the Queensland University lab, Burley says his only comment was: "Wow! It is spooky that we can track an event that happened so long ago to such an exact period of time."

The researchers say they hope to apply their techniques to other sites in Tonga and elsewhere across Oceana to gain a highly detailed understanding of how long and at what pace South Pacific settlement took place.

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