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Scientific findings pose challenge to Maori oral history

Scientific findings pose challenge to Maori oral history

A just-published study in the American journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” might have far-reaching implications for Maori oral history, says AUT University History Professor, Paul Moon.

In the study, more than 1400 radiocarbon dates were analysed from 47 Pacific islands. The results show that New Zealand was first colonised by humans between 1210 and 1385 AD.

However, Maori oral histories which recall lists of ancestors have been used to date the first arrival in New Zealand as early as 800 AD.

“If these Maori whakapapa [genealogies] are out by over five hundred years, then this must raise questions about their reliability,” says Dr. Moon.

“If Maori reached New Zealand waters just 300 years before the first Europeans, some people might also start to reconsider the idea of Maori being indigenous. It could be interpreted as a different type of “indigenous” from the sort that applies to peoples who inhabited countries exclusively for thousands of years. This would be an unfortunate conclusion to draw, but is something that might have to be faced”.

Dr. Moon say that the implications of the study could also impact on the findings of the Waitangi Tribunal, which has repeatedly accepted evidence of a much earlier settlement date.

“Ironically”, says Dr. Moon, “the mid-fourteenth century date for the first arrival of Maori in New Zealand was widely accepted up until the 1950s, when academics challenged it on the basis of Maori whakapapa, and shunted back the date by hundreds of years. Now, it looks like it will have to be dragged forward again”.

ends

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