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Challenge Questions

This page contains further questions on the subject of human settlement of the Pacific and are designed to stimulate more in-depth conversation and learning. These questions support students to think and write at the level of synthesis and understanding required for Merit and Excellence discussions and above.


1. Scientific research shows that human settlement of the Pacific occurred over a period of 3000 years. These settlers used canoes to explore and colonise new islands. The number of people who can travel in a traditional Polynesian canoe is limited, suggesting that each settlement was made by small groups of people. 


Discuss the impact of settlement by small groups of people on genetic diversity within Polynesian populations.


2. The scientific team investigating the migration of the Pacific have used both ancient and modern mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) in their investigations. 


Explain why mtDNA rather than nuclear DNA is used in research like this and the differences in information that could be obtained from ancient and modern mtDNA samples.


3. The research described in these resources challenges the traditional Lapita-only model of human settlement of the Pacific and suggests that there may have been several waves of migration into the Pacific, including the early Lapita migration.


Use the information in these resources and your understanding of biotechnologies to answer the following question: 


Discuss the ways in which biotechnology has advanced the ability of scientists to investigate the hypothesis that there was more than one wave of migration into the Pacific.



4. In her research, Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith has utilised commensal plants and animals as a model to study human Pacific migration: 


a. Describe what a commensal plant or animal is and explain how they can be used to study the migration of humans in the Pacific. 


b. Use of commensal species such as the Pacific rat enables scientists to model human migration in the Pacific without using samples of human tissue. Discuss the ethical and biological implications of using model species as an alternative to using human samples from indigenous populations within the Pacific to carry out this research.