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16 November 2012
First Polynesians arrived in Tonga 2,800 years ago

The first Polynesian settlers sailed to Tonga between 2,830 and 2,846 years ago, according to new research which relied on ultra-precise dating of coral tools found at Tonga's first settlement.
     "The technique provides us with unbelievable precision in dating quite ancient materials," said David Burley, a co-author of the study and an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. "This stuff is almost 3,000 years old, and the date range is within 16 years."
     The Lapita people, the ancestors of modern-day Pacific Islanders, first sailed from coastal New Guinea roughly 5,000 years ago, reaching the Solomon Islands around 3,100 years ago and gradually expanding farther east toward what is now the archipelago Tonga, all the while leaving traces of their culture: primitive files broken from stag-horn coral reefs, which they likely used to smooth the surfaces of wooden objects or shell bracelets, Burley said.
     Archaeologists determine when the Lapita migrated to an island by estimating the age of the earliest coral files there. Burley and his team analysed 16 coral files found buried in the sand under the site of Polynesia's oldest known settlement, a small village called Nukuleka on the Tongan island of Tongatapu, pinpointing the date of first landfall at Tonga to within eight years of 826 BCE.
     The new technique could be used to retrace the steps of the ancient seafarers throughout Oceania with astonishing accuracy, Burley said.

Edited from LiveScience (7 November 2012)

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