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The people who discovered the remote islands of the Pacific — all those east of Solomon Islands — have a common origin. They were all members of the Austronesian societies that lived throughout southern China and Southeast Asia some 5,000 – 6,000 years ago.

Ra'ivavae Goddess figure, Austral Islands
Ra'ivavae Goddess figure.
Austral Islands.
270w x 300d x 640h mm.
Collection: Auckland Museum.

The Austronesians had the necessary skills to settle the Pacific Islands. They were experts at planting and harvesting crop and domesticated animals such as dogs, pigs and chickens. They also developed the world's first effective ocean-going craft using sails and outriggers.

The Austronesians have left behind evidence of their migrations enabling modern research to track their movement across the oceans.

Archaeologists have uncovered a vast number of items including tools, cooking and domestic equipment, garden implements, weapons, fishing gear, decorative items, and stone work. One of the best examples of an artefact trail is Lapita pottery. The Austronesians began making this type of pottery near New Guinea 3,500 years ago, and continued to make it as they moved through the Melanesian island chain and reached Fiji, Samoa and Tonga at least 3,000 years ago.

Other trails of evidence provide links back to the Austronesians in relation to biology, language and culture.

Reference: Howe, KR (ed), Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors, Bateman, Auckland, 2006.