Prof John Flenley Lecture

19 Sep 2019 4:00 PM - 3:00 PM
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Following resolution of a long-standing debate over the timing of the initial settlement of New Zealand from Polynesia (late 13th century), a prevailing paradigm has developed that invokes rapid transformation of the landscape, principally by fire, within a few decades of the first arrivals. This model has been constructed from evidence mostly from southern and eastern regions of New Zealand but a more complicated pattern may apply in the more humid western and northern regions where forests are more resilient to burning. A new pollen and charcoal record from Lake Pupuke, Auckland, charts the changing vegetation cover over the last thousand years in northern New Zealand, before and after the arrival of people. Our new record is dated principally by tephrochronology together with radiocarbon dating, and includes a cryptotephra deposit identified as Kaharoa tephra, a key marker for first settlement in northern New Zealand. Its discovery and stratigraphic position along with other tephra layers enables a clearer picture of environmental change to be drawn. The new pollen record shows an early phase (step 1) of minor, localised forest clearance around the time of Kaharoa tephra (c. 1314 AD) followed by a later, more extensive deforestation phase (step 2) commencing at around the time of deposition of the Rangitoto tephras (c. 1400‒1450 AD) which mark the most recent phase of activity of the Auckland Volcanic Field. This pattern concurs with an emerging hypothesis that the Little Ice Age had a significant impact on pre-European Māori with the onset of harsher conditions causing a consolidation of populations and later environmental impact in northern New Zealand.

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