The isolated archipelagos of Remote Oceania provide useful microcosms for understanding the impacts of initial human colonization. Palaeoecological data from most islands reveal catastrophic transformations, with losses of many species through over-hunting, deforestation and the introduction of novel mammalian predators, the most ubiquitous and devastating being commensal rats. Two case studies from the Austral Islands and New Zealand demonstrate the potential of direct human proxies from palaeoecological archives to detect initial human impacts on islands. We show how pollen from introduced crop plants, and buried seeds with gnaw marks from the introduced Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) provide a reliable means of detecting initial human colonization and highlight the downstream ecological consequences of agriculture and rat introduction on previously uninhabited pristine island ecosystems. Previous studies have relied on indirect signals of human arrival based on charcoal and associated vegetation changes, the causes of which are often more difficult to interpret with certainty.