Sunday, May 9

Were Polynesians the Best Navigators Ever?

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Some new, sophisticated, DNA research indicates that the Polynesians who lived more than 800 years ago may be have some of the best voyagers and navigators of all time. If not the absolute best, they certainly were right up there.

Indeed, the new study suggests that the Polynesians from the Marquesas, who invented the double-hulled canoe, reached what is now Colombia in South America before 1150, some 870 years ago. It also suggests that they paddled about 2,000 nm from Colombia to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) about the same time, and then another 2,000 nm back home.

The researchers, according to The New York Times, found that people on Rapa Nui and four Polynesian Islands have small amounts of DNA inherited from people who lived in Colombia at that time. The researchers’ theory is that the Polynesians came to South America and then took the South Americans back to Polynesia with them, with some voyages also stopping at Rapa Nui.

Archeologists and anthropologists have known for years that the Polynesians were skilled navigators who explored all over the South Pacific. They debated whether the Polynesians ever made it as far as the South America mainland.

Now it seems that they did. The new research was started by Andrés Morena Estrada, a geneticist, and his wife, Karla Sandoval, an anthropologist, who went to Rapa Nui to learn about the ancestry of the people there.

They were able to compare the DNA of 809 people from Rapa Nui with that of people from other Polynesian islands and countries on the Pacific Coast, from Mexico down to Chile. They found that most people on Rapa Nui had some Chilean ancestry.

They also found that a few had the same DNA as people from the Zenu population of Colombia and from the Polynesian islands. They then did more DNA measuring, and were able to determine that the DNA linking the Zenu population with the people in the Polynesian islands dated back more than 800 years.

There is no question that the Polynesians were well traveled in the days, or hundreds of years, really, before Columbus. Some may have lived on islands just off the coast of Chile. An earlier anthropological study of skulls unearthed on Mocha Island, just off Chile, found that they looked Polynesian in shape and form. Read more:



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