The origins of Maori have been debated since Westerners first entered the Pacific Ocean. During his explorations of Polynesia, Cook and his scientists noted the similarities in appearance, custom, and language of the Polynesian people, suggesting a common and comparatively recent settlement of that region; more distant origins, he suggested, probably lay in the 'Malay' or 'East Indies' regions.
Others suggested that Polynesians originally came from Europe or western Asia - a view that persisted into the twentieth century. Some people saw biblical origins, placing Maori origins within the setting of the Old Testament. Nineteenth century science suggested the Aryan Polynesian, with India as the Maori homeland.
The question of when Maori first arrived in New Zealand has also been hotly debated, as has the question of a pre-Maori population. Maori oral tradition tells of an ancestral home of Hawaiki, which today is believed to be in the areas of the Southern Cook and Society islands.
Ethnologists, (led by Percy Smith) 'tidied up' Maori oral tradition in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and gave the date of first Polynesian contact with New Zealand at 750 AD; the 'great fleet' (which departed from the Tahitian region) arrived in 1350 AD. Supported by Elsdon Best and the Maori scholar Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), Smith's ideas became widely accepted by Maori and Pakeha alike, remaining dominant until at least the 1970s.
By the 1950s, new scientific method such as radiocarbon dating, together with new ethnological research demolished Smith's account, suggesting that Maori may have arrived as early as 800 AD. More recently, radiocarbon dating of archeological sites, DNA analysis, and canoe reconstructions have furthered the debate. It is now believed that New Zealand was settled by people from the Southern Cook and Society islands region.