I. Prehistoric Times > M. Later Old World Prehistory (3000 B.C.E. and Afterward) > 7. Offshore Settlement in the Pacific
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
7. Offshore Settlement in the Pacific
By 2000 B.C.E., a myriad of stone-using farming cultures flourished by Southeast Asian rivers and coasts. Canoes played a major role in intervalley trade. Commodities like clay vessels, stone axes, and toolmaking stone were exchanged through trade networks that linked small communities from Taiwan in the north to New Guinea and the southwestern Pacific islands in the south.  1
Yams and taro, both root crops, were cultivated in the New Guinea highlands by at least 7000 B.C.E. Agriculture became a staple throughout the southwestern Pacific by 2500 B.C.E. The new economies enabled offshore navigators to carry storable foods as well as cultigens, even edible dogs, chickens, and pigs, on long open-water voyages.  2
By 1500 B.C.E., the Lapita people of the Bismarck Archipelago in the southwestern Pacific had developed oceangoing, double-hulled canoes and mastered simple navigational techniques using the stars that enabled them to sail to islands far over the horizon. The Lapita people were expert traders. They voyaged as far east as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa during the first millennium B.C.E.  3
From there, much longer distances entailed voyages of nearly 600 open-water miles. From Melanesia, canoes voyaged to Micronesia about 2,000 years ago. Polynesian culture originated in the west; then small groups settled the Marquesas by 400 C.E. and the Society Islands and Tahiti by 800 C.E.  4
By the time French and British explorers visited Tahiti in the mid-18th century, the Tahitians were ruled by a powerful hierarchy of chiefs and nobles. Canoes arrived on Hawaii before 700 C.E. and on Easter Island 200 years earlier. Finally, Polynesians voyaged southward to colonize New Zealand around 750 C.E. After 1400 C.E., Classic Maori culture developed, based on sweet potato agriculture and ruled by a flamboyant, warlike elite.  5
With the colonization of the Pacific Islands, the prehistoric human settlement of the Old World was complete.  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.