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Coral files reveal time of first Polynesian settlements

High-precision techniques estimate first settlers arrived in Tonga almost 2,900 years ago

IMAGE: This shows pristine (upper) and used (lower) surfaces of an Acropora coral file used to sculpt and smooth wood and shell surfaces.

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Polynesia was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans, and new techniques reveal that this settlement first occurred within a 16 year window nearly 3000 years ago. The research, published November 7 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by David Burley and colleagues from Simon Fraser University, Canada, reveals that the first human settlers lived in a founder colony on the islands of Tonga between 2830 to 2846 years ago.

To arrive at this precise figure, the researchers used a high-precision technique to estimate the age of coral files that early settlers used to sculpt and smooth wood and shell surfaces. As Dr. Burley states, "This degree of precision is impossible using radiocarbon and other dating techniques. It provides significant new opportunities for our understanding of the exploration and settlement of the far distant islands spread across the South Pacific."


Citation: Burley D, Weisler MI, Zhao J-x (2012) High Precision U/Th Dating of First Polynesian Settlement. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48769. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0048769

Financial Disclosure: This work was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Grant 410-2009-2700 to Burley ,http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca.; Australia Research Council Grant DP0986542 to Weisler ,http://www.arc.gov.au.; and Australian Research Council Grant LE0989067 to Zhao, Weisler and others ,http://www.arc.gov.au. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interest Statement: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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