An Otago University researcher has found early Maori most likely suffered from gout, which suggests the disease is genetic, not just caused by modern lifestyle.
PhD student Anna Gosling says the discovery discounts the stereotype that gout - the inflammation of joints after accumulation of uric acid crystals - is an upper class European disease.
She studied historic newspapers and records from missionaries, physicians and Captain James Cook.
Ms Gosling says gout is more prevalent among Maori, with nearly 8% suffering from it compared to 2.6% of New Zealand Europeans.
She says the discovery takes some of the culpability away from Maori for poor diet or lifestyle, saying many can't completely avoid the disease because of its genetic origins.