Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • This article explores Pacific migration and offers scientific and technological explanations for a thousand year gap between settlements in West Polynesia and East Polynesia.

    Scientists have used carbon dating on artefacts found throughout the Pacific to create a timeline of human migration. They think that most of West Polynesia (Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga) were settled by 800 BC. After a long pause, settlers landed in the Cook Islands, Hawai’i, Rapa Nui and Aotearoa.

    Computer modelling of wind direction and ocean currents suggests that changes to both of these things might have caused the gap in settlement times. Alternatively, some scientists believe the gap was due to the time it took for voyaging technology to change. Waka ama (outrigger canoes) were used for the earlier expeditions. The waka hourua (double-hulled canoe), which came later, could travel longer distances over rougher oceans and carry heavier loads.

    This article supports the science capabilities use evidence and critique evidence – scientists need to use evidence to support their theories of what happened long ago.

    Teacher support material

    Check your school resource area for the article from the 2019 level 3 Connected journal Shifting Views, download it as a Google slide presentation or order it from the Ministry of Education.

    The teacher support material (TSM) can be downloaded from TKI (Word and PDF files). It has three learning activities – Waka voyaging, Science versus Disney and Archaeological adventures – along with resource links.

    Puzzling out Pacific migrations is a ready-to-use cross-curricular teaching resource. It uses this Connected article as the starting point.

    Related content

    The article Refining dates for human habitation in the South Pacific explores improved radiocarbon dates to advance our understanding around the disappearance of the Lapita people and the emergence of different Polynesian peoples.

    Learn about the people named the Lapita – the earliest people known to have migrated into the Pacific. The Lapita period ended when the ‘long pause’ began.

    Navigating without instruments – introduction curates the Hub’s resources on Pacific navigation. It contains articles and activities about this ancient science.

    Piecing it all together is an activity that promotes the skills of observation and inference when trying to solve a scientific problem through the use of evidence.

    The article has a timeline of Pacific settlement. Timelines use written and visual components to convey information. The article Science over time curates Hub timelines that feature scientific ideas and heritage scientists. The article also provides pedagogical advice when using timelines.

    Check out our entire range of Connected articles here. We’ve curated them by topic and concepts.

    Activity idea

    The activity Exploring Lapita pottery through observation and art is a cross-curricular activity that uses Lapita pottery as the context for enhancing scientific observation by recreating designs on paper or in clay.

    Useful links

    The Connected journals can be ordered from the Down the Back of the Chair website. Access to these resources is restricted to Ministry-approved education providers. To find out if you are eligible for a login or if you have forgotten your login details, contact their customer services team on 0800 660 662 or email


    The Connected series is published annually by the Ministry of Education, New Zealand.

      Published 19 March 2020 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all