Human Evolution in Polynesia

The number of eastern Polynesian females required to found the Māori population of Aotearoa (New Zealand) has been recalculated. Our estimates use computer simulations that incorporate realistic sigmoid population growth models and include previously published and new mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) 3' hypervariable region 1 sequences from Māori (N=109) and other eastern Polynesian (N = 125) volunteers. Approximately 190 (170 – 230) women are estimated to have been present in the founding waka (canoes). This new figure is more than double the previous estimate (Murray-McIntosh et al. 1998). Our claim for a large Māori founding population fits well with Māori oral history and has additional support from Māori paleodemography studies based on fertility estimates (Brewis et al. 1990; Pool 1991). An increasing body of data, including our own, supports the concept of planned multiple settlement voyages to Aotearoa by Polynesian navigators, leading us to suggest that theories for an "accidental discovery" of Aotearoa can now be completely disregarded. Four rare and novel Māori mtDNA haplotypes have been identified in the present study, but we are unable to assign the immediate origin of Māori to an exact Pacific island "homeland" because these haplotypes are not currently known elsewhere in Polynesia. We also discuss briefly the ultimate origin of all Polynesians (including Māori) in a wider context. In general, we support the emerging consensus for Pacific origins most closely encapsulated by the "slow boat" model (Oppenheimer and Richards 2001a). Previously "competing" models for the settlement of Oceania are seen as extremes in a continuum of possibilities with the slow boat representing an "intermediate" model. We suggest that a complete account is now close, incorporating data from all relevant interdisciplinary fields to provide a "synthetic total evidence theory."