Modeling the prehistoric Maori population

Alexandra Slade, M. A. Molloy, D. G. Sutton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Skeletal and comparative evidence of mortality is combined with fertility estimates for the precontact Maori population of New Zealand to determine the implied rate of precontact population growth. This rate is found to be too low to populate New Zealand within the time constraints of its prehistoric sequence, the probable founding population size, and the probable population size at contact. Rates of growth necessary to populate New Zealand within the accepted time span are calculated. The differences between this minimum necessary rate and the skeletally derived rate are too large to result solely from inadequacies in the primary data. Four alternative explanations of this conundrum are proposed: 1) skeletal evidence of precontact mortality is highly inaccurate; 2) skeletal evidence of fertility is severely underestimating actual levels; 3) there was very rapid populatin growth in the earliest part of the sequence up to 1150 A.D., from which no skeletal evidence currently is available; or 4) the prehistoric sequence of New Zealand may have been longer than the generally accepted 1,000–1,200 years. These alternative are examined, and a combination of the last two is found to be the most probable. The implications of this model for New Zealand prehistory and Oceanic paleodemography are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-356
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1990


  • Fertility
  • Mortality
  • New Zealand
  • Polynesia
  • Population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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