Genetic study reveals how ancient sailors settled in Polynesia
Over a millennium ago, intrepid sailors crossed vast swathes of the Pacific Ocean in double-hulled canoes to reach the distant islands of Polynesia, the last habitable region on the planet to be colonized by the man.
A genetic study published on Wednesday deciphered the timing and sequence of this colony from an area covering about a third of the Earth’s surface, with Samoa as the starting point while Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, and other places known for their megalithic statues were among the last to be reached.
“Many of the distances were immense,” said Alexander Ioannidis, a computer geneticist at Stanford University, senior author of the research published in the journal Nature.
For example, the study found that Rapa Nui was colonized around AD 1210 after a voyage on the high seas covering approximately 1,600 miles (2,575 km). Historians believe that family groups of perhaps 30 to 200 people both sailed in double-hull canoes which functioned similarly to modern catamarans and used a Latin or triangular sail.
Genomic data from 430 modern people from 21 Pacific island populations has helped unravel the genetic history of Polynesia.
“Each living individual keeps a genetic record of all the ancestors they inherited their DNA from, so by analyzing hundreds of individuals together, we can create a genomic network where connections, division patterns and dates can be deduced.” said the geneticist and co-study. author Andres Moreno-Estrada of the Mexican network of CINVESTAV research centers.
The first trips were found to have been from Samoa to Fiji and Tonga, and then to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in the 9th century AD. In the 11th century, then come the islands of Totaiete ma (Society Islands), followed in the 12th century by Tuha’a Pae (Austral Islands) and the Tuamotu archipelago.
Eventually, in the 12th and 13th centuries, sailors from Mangareva in the Gambier Islands reached Te Henua ‘Enana (Marquesas Islands), Rapa Nui and Raivavae – places where megaliths like the monumental stone statues of Rapa’s head and torso Nui, known as moai, were created.
“This is one of the most impressive and fascinating chapters in human expansion and long-distance exploration,” said Moreno-Estrada.
There has been an ongoing debate based on archaeological remains as to when the Polynesian islands were colonized.
“Unraveling these stories is not only a fascinating challenge, but also an incredible demonstration that modern populations are still physically connected to the stories of their ancestors,” said Ioannidis.
Navigation may have involved following long-range seabird tracks as well as hints of stars, winds, weather, ocean currents, and water patterns caused by islands and atolls. The travelers brought with them crops like root vegetable taro and food sources like chickens.
“These were originally voyages into the unknown, and it is believed that the Polynesians would sail upwind so that if they couldn’t find a new island, they could come back,” Ioannidis added.
The Polynesians established sophisticated artistic and cultural traditions in sculpture, boat ornamentation, religious and social rules, tattooing and, in Rapa Nui, north of the Marquesas, south of the Marquesas and Raivavae, of megalithic statues.
The inhabitants of the megalithic islands have been found to be genetically related, settled from a common origin in the Tuamotus.
“The discovery of a common genetic source for the inhabitants of the eastern islands where megalithic sites have been discovered is not an intuitive connection given how remote and widely dispersed these island groups are,” Moreno said. Estrada.
The researchers dated these long journeys close to when, as detailed in their genetic study published last year, there was contact between Polynesians and indigenous people in South America.
“This suggests that when the maritime culture of the widely spread Tuamotu archipelago embarked on its longest voyages of discovery, which gave rise to widely dispersed populations of monumental sculptors, it also made contact with the Americas,” said Ioannidis.
While Samoa was the springboard for the settlement of remote Polynesia, researchers called it just an intermediate step in a larger regional human expansion of the Pacific beginning in Taiwan about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago. It is believed that Samoa was colonized around 800 BC.