Over the last 30 yr, there has been an ongoing debate on the dates and modes of the earliest colonization of
East Polynesia, namely the Cook Islands, the 5 archipelagos of French Polynesia, the Hawai’i Islands, Easter Island, and New Zealand. At least 3 alternative models were proposed by Sinoto, Anderson, Kirch, and Conte, but interestingly all these models basically relied on the same set of roughly 200 radiocarbon dates on various organic materials from archaeological excavations as far back as the 1950s. Some of the models differed by 500–1000 yr—for a proposed initial colonization around the turn of the BC/AD eras, if not considerably later. By comparing the different approaches to this chronological issue, it becomes evident that almost all known problems in dealing with 14C dates from archaeological excavations are involved: stratigraphy and exact location of samples, sample material and quality, inbuilt ages and reservoir effects, lab errors in ancient
dates, etc. More recently, research into landscape and vegetation history has produced alternative 14C dating for early human impact, adding to the confusion about the initial stages of island colonization, while archaeological 14C dates, becoming increasingly “young” as compared to former investigations, now advocate a rapid and late (post-AD 900) colonization of the archipelagos. As it appears, the Polynesian case is more than just another case study, it’s a lesson on 14C-based archaeological chronology. The present paper does not pretend to solve the problems of early Polynesian colonization, but intends to contribute to the debate on how 14C specialists and archaeologists might cooperate in the future.