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Vertical dashed lines, 1σ age range of oldest archaeological site in New Zealand (1280–1382 A. The contentious early series of old rat bone dates (20, 21) is the only direct evidence in support of an early human presence in New Zealand. We also dated 13 rat bones selected from the same collections of bones originally excavated and now held in museum collections, representing seven of the 1995–1996 series of rat bone sampling sites (20, 21): Predator Cave, Hawke's Cave, Earthquakes #1, Gordon's Valley (sites 2a, 4, and 7), Hanging Rock, Ardenest, and Timpendean (Fig. The calibrated ages of rat bones from these museum collections are also all younger than 1280 A. and overlap only with our reexcavated rat bone dates and with other rat bone dates processed in 19 (Fig. Locations of laughing owl bone sites, seed deposits, and seed test pits in New Zealand.We now test this evidence by redating new rat bones from the original dated laughing owl sites using improved AMS radiocarbon ultrafiltration pretreatment methods [supporting information (SI) and Table S1) to test the reproducibility of the original series of rat bone dates (20, 21). Symbols show location of redated laughing owl bone sites (20, 21) (blue), seed deposits (red) mentioned in text, and test pits (black) examined during the search for seed sites, but which did not contain preserved seeds.Symbols, median age; bars, upper and lower limits of 2σ age range.

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C., were reported on bones of the introduced Pacific rat excavated from extinct laughing owl (1,100 years before the earliest-dated archaeological and palaeoecological evidence for human presence ≈1280 A. The rat dates have also been used as key evidence to support the long prehistory model (28, 29, 30).

More controversially, because recent revisions of East Polynesian colonization now suggest later settlement at ≈800 A. (8, 11, 15), the rat bone dates imply a discovery of New Zealand from western Pacific archipelagos long before East Polynesia was even colonized.

The pristine island ecosystems of East Polynesia were among the last places on Earth settled by prehistoric people, and their colonization triggered a devastating transformation. Using New Zealand as an example, we provide a reliable approach for accurately dating initial human colonization on Pacific islands by radiocarbon dating the arrival of the Pacific rat.

Overhunting contributed to widespread faunal extinctions and the decline of marine megafauna, fires destroyed lowland forests, and the introduction of the omnivorous Pacific rat () led to a new wave of predation on the biota. Radiocarbon dates on distinctive rat-gnawed seeds and rat bones show that the Pacific rat was introduced to both main islands of New Zealand ≈1280 A. This matches with the earliest-dated archaeological sites, human-induced faunal extinctions, and deforestation, implying there was no long period of invisibility in either the archaeological or palaeoecological records.

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It assumed a small founding population (≈10–20 individuals) with a low population growth rate (1,000 years until the 13th century A. There is no direct archaeological evidence to support this model, which assumes that any early settlements have long been destroyed (27). However, these disturbances are common throughout the Holocene in many New Zealand pollen records and have more convincing natural explanations (19).

Instead, it relies on minor short-term forest disturbances (19) that occur well before deforestation began in the 13th century A. In 1996, the first series of AMS radiocarbon dates (hereafter “dates”), the oldest ≈200 B. The dates were also used to propose circumstantially that there was an earlier wave of rat-induced faunal extinctions before permanent settlement (7, 20, 21).

A new dating approach is required to help determine the actual chronological sequence and pattern of ecological and anthropological change on Polynesian islands.

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