The ancestors of today's Polynesians originated in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago, spreading into the Philippines and eastward into the Pacific, according to a study of the region's languages that backs up the findings of other similar studies.
Scientists at Auckland University used computers to analyze the vocabulary of 400 Austronesian languages from Southeast Asia and the Pacific as part of their research into how the Pacific was settled.
The Austronesian language family is one of the largest in the world, including 1,200 languages spread across the Pacific region, professor Russell Gray said yesterday.
“By studying the basic vocabulary from these languages, such as words for animals, simple verbs, colors and numbers, we can trace how these languages evolved,” Gray said.
“The relationships between these languages give us a detailed history of Pacific settlement,” Gray said.
The results, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, show how migration from Taiwan paused for long periods.
Before entering the Philippines, the Austronesians paused in Southeast Asia for around a thousand years and then spread across the region from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than a thousand years.
After settling in Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians stopped for another thousand years before spreading further into Polynesia and eventually reaching New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island.
New Zealand was believed to have been settled by the Maori about 700 to 800 years ago.
Research fellow Simon Greenhill said that the stages of the expansion could be linked with new technology, such as better voyaging canoes.
“Using these new technologies, the Austronesians and Polynesians were able to rapidly spread through the Pacific in one of the greatest human migrations ever,” he said.
Other archeological and DNA research has supported the theory that Polynesians are linked to Taiwan's Aborigines.