The encounter took
place around 1150-1230 A.D.
Indigenous Americans and Polynesians made epic voyages through
the open ocean, encountering each other as early as 1200 A.D. Thats
centuries before the arrival of Europeans, according to a new study,
which looked at the genomes of modern inhabitants from Polynesia
and the Americas.
Easter Island. Credit
The possibility of contacts between the two regions has been an
area of interest for researchers for decades. Archeologists believed
the two regions made early contact, mainly due to the early
cultivation of a South American sweet potato in Polynesia. The
results of this new genomic study now confirmed they did.
Alexander Ioannidis from Stanford University in California and
his international colleagues analyzed genetic data from more than
800 individuals hailing from 15 indigenous American communities
and 17 Polynesian islands. The conclusive evidence suggests
early encounters between the two groups.
The study specifically looked for signs of early Polynesians and
Indigenous Americans interbreeding, which would leave a clear genetic
signature in their offspring. What they found was that people from
Polynesian islands have genetic traces in their DNA linked to indigenous
South Americans, especially with the Zenu tribe from Colombia.
Then, the researchers went on to trace the timing of the encounter,
looking at the length of the indigenous American genomic segments.
They finally estimated that the initial admixture took place in
the eastern islands of Polynesia around 1150-1230 A.D. On Eastern
Island, the encounter was much later at around 1380 AD, despite
being the closest to South America.
Our analyses suggest strongly that a single contact event
occurred in eastern Polynesia, before the settlement of Rapa Nui,
between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group most
closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia,
the study said.
Some open questions
While the study confirmed the encounter, it couldnt clarify
how it unfolded. South Americans may have drifted thousands of miles
to the Pacific or Polynesians might have traveled to South America
and mixed with the locals there. The question is still open for
the researchers, who hope to continue looking into this.
The Polynesians are well known for their skills in ocean exploration
because of their long voyages across the Pacific Ocean. They have
traveled as far as the Hawaiian Island and Easter Island in the
east and New Zealand in the south, looking for new settlements on
canoes guided by the stars.
But some have argued that indigenous Americans also adventured
to Polynesia, taking advantage of favorable weather conditions and
currents. Back in 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl famously
sailed on a simple wooden raft from the coast of Peru to Polynesia,
in order to prove his theory that people from South America could
have colonized Polynesia.
The study adds more evidence to the early contact between indigenous
Americans and Polynesians. Previously, researchers discovered hints
of their connections in the sweet potato plant, which is from South
America but was grown all over Polynesia before Europeans arrived
in the Pacific.
2013, a study suggested that the sweet potato was first introduced
to Polynesia between 1000 and 1100 A.D., most likely by Polynesian
voyagers who reached the western coast of South America and brought
back the crop, before spreading it to other Pacific islands.
The study was published in the journal Nature.