ABC (Spain): the Polynesians had contact with the Indians before the Europeans

In 1947, to confirm the bold hypothesis, the expedition led by Norwegian Explorer Thor Heyerdahl (Thor Heyerdahl) went on a wooden raft “Kon-Tiki” from the Peruvian coast. Thor Heyerdahl believed that South Americans could have reached the Polynesian Islands in pre-Columbian times. The group has overcome seven thousand kilometres and 102 day came to the Pacific Islands. Travelers have proved that this idea was not insane. Thus Thor Heyerdahl questioned most common in those days, the hypothesis that in this remote region is home to only the natives of Asia, overcame in ancient times, the space (probably land) that is now the Bering Strait. Despite such a feat, most experts criticized the hypothesis of the Norwegian traveler.

Today, perhaps, an international group of researchers will put an end to this dispute and stand on the side of Thor Heyerdahl, based on the results of large-scale genetic studies, in which he collected DNA data of more than 800 surviving native Americans and French Polynesia. For the first time scientists have discovered a similar genetic traits that indicate contacts between the two peoples before the arrival of Europeans in South America. This event could only happen once. Most likely it occurred around the year 1200 in East Polynesia, where the inhabitants of the island and the group closely associated with the indigenous population of the present coast of Colombia. Unlike previous works, in a new study published this week in the journal Nature, underlines that Easter island was not the first place where we met two people.

From sweet potato to DNA

The possibility of prehistoric contact between Polynesians and Indians caused a lively debate. As one of the arguments to defend this idea led tuber plant is a sweet potato. He is a very distant relative of the potato, but similar in appearance and sweet in taste. From pre-Columbian times, this plant is grown not only in Latin America but also in Eastern Polynesia. In addition, the word “Yam,” like the Polynesian languages and the languages of the indigenous inhabitants of the Andes. On Easter island there are traces that in ancient times there in the fields grew sweet potatoes. There are other evidence of cultural exchange, for example, the unusual ancient stone statues and a special cult of “man-birds”. These characteristics combine Easter island with South America.

Some researchers studied the genetic code of the potato, hoping to prove that the domesticated form of this plant from South America and Polynesia — are genetically the same. However, they were not able to confirm that the sweet potato was spread by the people. Other experts have studied ancient DNA from bone remains belonging to the Indians and Polynesians. Ancient remains are often decomposed, so the study was not presented enough evidence that once these two people in contact.

In General, critics of this hypothesis have considered all the evidence unconvincing, noting that it was only speculation, and that between the two Nations lay thousands of miles of open ocean.

However, the new study is much broader. It represented the first time the results are conclusive genetic tests. Scientists have visited indigenous communities, explained the purpose of the study, found out whether the natives interested in participating, and received consent. The researchers took saliva samples from 17 807 inhabitants of the Polynesian Islands, as well as 15 groups of Indians living on the Pacific coast of North and South America, from Mexico to Chile. The researchers then conducted a genetic analysis, looking for DNA fragments, characteristic for each population and “identical by descent” segments, which means that they were inherited from the same ancestor one generation ago.

“We found identical by descent segments of the Indians on several of the Polynesian Islands” — says doctor of Sciences from Stanford University and study co-author Alexander Ioannidis (Ioannidis Alexander). “This is convincing proof that there was only one case of contact,” — says the scientist. That is, at some point in history, the Polynesians and the Indians met, and during that time the people of both Nations had children with their DNA.

Contact the southern Marquesas Islands

The statistical analysis confirmed that this event occurred in the Middle ages, around the year 1200, that is, “around the time when these Islands were first colonized, the indigenous Polynesians,” says Alexander Ioannidis. On the basis of computational methods, a group of scientists have discovered the source of the DNA of modern Indians in Colombia.

In previous genetic studies, priority was given to contacts with the inhabitants of Easter island, the nearest to South America inhabited Polynesian Islands. However, the authors of a new study support the idea that the first contact took place on the island archipelagos of East Polynesia, for example, South of the Marquesas Islands. This assumption was expressed by Thor Heyerdahl. Based on these data it can be concluded that the contact occurred earlier than anticipated in other studies, and the new genetic code is spread on several Islands of Polynesia. These results suggest that the Indians had a genetic and cultural influence in Polynesia for more than five centuries before the arrival of Europeans to the region.

“If you think about how the story is presented in that time period, they almost always talk about the European conquest and not to remember other events. I believe our work helps to tell previously untold stories. And it’s really great”, — says Alexander Ioannidis.