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Isotope analysis reveals life of first NZ settlers

Published: 8:06PM Thursday May 16, 2013 Source: ONE News

New light has been cast into the lives of New Zealand's earliest settlers.

Isotope analysis tests carried out on remains found on Wairau Bar in Marlborough show the settlers ate diverse diets, and may have travelled widely.

The research, which analysed isotopes from teeth and bones retrieved from a burial site near Blenheim, was carried out by the University of Otago.

"Some of them had been subsisting largely on moa, some had been subsisting on marine mammals such as seals, and others had been living in inland areas and probably eating foods from the rivers and the lakes," said associate professor Hallie Buckley, a researcher at Otago University.

"In the earlier group of people, the people that we call 'Group One', they were very distinctive culturally and in the way they were buried."

The new research, published today, suggests that the earlier group may have come from east Polynesia and spread out across the South Island around 700 years ago.

"It is significant in terms of understanding global pre-history, but then in terms of New Zealand pre-history this takes us one step further to being able to understand more about the culture and biology of the first New Zealanders," Buckley explained.

Although the first settlers travelled widely, their descendants believe Wairau Bar remained a base camp, with travellers returning there for burial.

"Like we do in present day still, at that time saw the Wairau Bar as their ancestral homeland and wherever they lived around the country they still went back to the Wairau to maintain that connection with the first place," said Richard Bradley of Rangitane iwi.

The research is set to continue, with both scientists and iwi hoping to achieve a better understanding of the roles of men and women within these early communities. Another goal is to determine exactly where they came from.