New Study Reveals First Polynesians Arrived in Tonga around 826 BC

Archaeologists, using new high-precision techniques, have come to the conclusion that first settlers arrived in Polynesia almost 2,900 years ago.

This is a view on an island in Tonga (

Polynesia was one of the last places on our planet to be settled by humans. In 2008, Prof David Burley of Simon Fraser University in Canada and his team claimed that Tonga was the first group of islands in the region to be settled by migrants – the Lapita people – some 3,000 years ago, and that Nukuleka, a small village on the coast of the Tonga’s Tongatapu Island, was their first settlement.

In a recent study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, the team has revealed that the first settlers lived in Nukuleka 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 Lapita people used to sculpt and smooth wood and shell surfaces.

This image shows pristine, upper, and used, lower, surfaces of an Acropora coral file used to sculpt and smooth wood and shell surfaces (David Burley et al)

“High precision U/Th dates of Acropora coral files from Nukuleka give unprecedented resolution, identifying the founder event by 2838±8 BP and documenting site development over the ensuing 250 years,” the archaeologists said.

“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,” Dr Burley explained.


Bibliographic information: David Burley et al. 2012. High Precision U/Th Dating of First Polynesian Settlement. PLoS ONE 7(11): e48769; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0048769