The story of the peopling of the Pacific islands is one of the grand themes of human history (Suggs, 1960; Shutler and Shutler, 1975). The voyagers who first settled them lacked chronometers with which to reckon longitude, and they were ignorant of metalworking or the various companion technologies that supported the efforts of European explorers during the past few centuries. Yet those courageous islanders made their way somehow to a myriad of tiny flecks of land strewn across a vast ocean covering nearly half the surface of the Earth. By 25,000 yr ago, some of them had occupied New Guinea, the most distant of the large Indonesian islands that reach out like stepping stones from the mainland of southeast Asia toward the heart of the Pacific. Nearby Melanesia, adjacent parts of western Polynesia, and segments of Micronesia closest to the Philippines were evidently settled by 3,000 to 4,000 yr ago. Eastern Polynesia, including Hawaii and New Zealand, and the remainder of Micronesia were mostly settled from 2,000 to 1,000 yr ago, although some isolated bits of rock and coral may not have been occupied until even later.

The actual courses of human migration into and through the various island groups are still poorly known. There are no wagon roads upon the sea, which retains no record of the passage of a boat from launch point to landfall. Consequently, all knowledge of the movements of prehistoric voyagers is inferential.

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