The possibility of voyaging contact between prehistoric Polynesian and Native American populations has long intrigued researchers. Proponents have pointed to the existence of New World crops, such as the sweet potato and bottle gourd, in the Polynesian archaeological record, but nowhere else outside the pre-Columbian Americas…while critics have argued that these botanical dispersals need not have been human mediated…The Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl controversially suggested that prehistoric South American populations had an important role in the settlement of east Polynesia and particularly of Easter Island (Rapa Nui)2. Several limited molecular genetic studies have reached opposing conclusions, and the possibility continues to be as hotly contested today as it was when first suggested…Here we analyse genome-wide variation in individuals from islands across Polynesia for signs of Native American admixture, analysing…individuals from 17 island populations and 15 Pacific coast Native American groups. We find conclusive evidence for prehistoric contact of Polynesian individuals with Native American individuals (around AD 1200) contemporaneous with the settlement of remote Oceania…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.
I already recorded a podcast on The Insight with the first author that should post tonight. So I’m not going to put a long post, just subscribe to The Insight and listen to what the first author has to say.
The major finding using high density SNP chips and local ancestry deconvolution seems to be that a group of people from mainland South America, probably coastal Columbia, was admixed into the population of the Marquesas. It is from the Marquesas that this genetic ancestry propagated across the eastern fringe of Oceania, including Easter Island.
Update: The podcast has been pushed live. It should propagate in the next hour or so.