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Current Affairs

Polynesian and South American contact

Date: 11 July 2020 Tags: Miscellaneous

Issue

New genetic research shows that there was mingling between ancient native peoples from Polynesia and South America.

 

Background

The question of such contact is part based on the enduring presence in Polynesia of staple food in the form of the sweet potato that originated in South and Central America.

 

Details

  • Scientists said an examination of DNA from 807 people — from 14 Polynesian islands and Pacific coastal Native American populations from Mexico to Chile — definitively resolved the matter.

  • People from four island sites in French Polynesia — Mangareva and the Pallisers in the Tuamotu archipelago and Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands — bore DNA indicative of interbreeding with South Americans most closely related to present-day indigenous Colombians at around 1200 AD.

  • People from Chile’s Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, also had South American ancestry, some from modern Chilean immigrants and some from the same ancient intermingling as the other islands.

  • If the Polynesians reached the Americas, their voyage would likely have been conducted in their double-hulled sailing canoes.

  • The study left open the question of who made the monumental Pacific crossing: Polynesians heading east and arriving in Colombia or perhaps Ecuador, or South Americans travelling west.

  • This contact explains the mystery of how the sweet potato arrived in Polynesia centuries before European sailors.

  • They noted that the sweet potato’s name in many Polynesian languages — kumara — resembles its name in some native Andes languages.