Photosystem II (PS II), found in oxygenic photosynthetic organisms, catalyses the most energetically demanding reaction in nature, the oxidation of water to molecular oxygen and protons. The water oxidase in PS II contains a Mn4Ca cluster (oxygen evolving complex, OEC), whose catalytic mechanism has been extensively investigated but is still unresolved. In particular the precise Mn oxidation levels through which the cluster cycles during functional turnover are still contentious. In this, the first of several planned parts, we examine a broad range of published data relating to this question, while considering the recent atomic resolution PS II crystal structure of Umena et al. (Nature, 2011, 473, 55). Results from X-ray, UV-Vis and NIR spectroscopies are considered, using an approach that is mainly empirical, by comparison with published data from known model systems, but with some reliance on computational or other theoretical considerations. The intention is to survey the extent to which these data yield a consistent picture of the Mn oxidation states in functional PS II – in particular, to test their consistency with two current proposals for the mean redox levels of the OEC during turnover; the so called ‘high’ and ‘low’ oxidation state paradigms. These systematically differ by two oxidation equivalents throughout the redox accumulating catalytic S state cycle (states S0⋯S3). In summary, we find that the data, in total, substantially favor the low oxidation proposal, particularly as a result of the new analyses we present. The low oxidation state scheme is able to resolve a number of previously ‘anomalous’ results in the observed UV-Visible S state turnover spectral differences and in the resonant inelastic X-ray spectroscopy (RIXS) of the Mn pre-edge region of the S1 and S2 states. Further, the low oxidation paradigm is able to provide a ‘natural’ explanation for the known sensitivity of the OEC Mn cluster to cryogenic near infra-red (NIR) induced turnover to alternative spin/redox states in S2 and S3.