New research suggests that Polynesians met and mingled with Native Americans long before Columbus.
This conclusion has been made by researchers after examining the genomes of 27 living inhabitants of Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island. A very remote island west of South America.
The researchers noticed that 16 percent of the genome had European origins, which is not surprising since Europeans colonized the island in 1722.
But what was more surprising is that around 8 percent of the genome had striking similarities to Native Americans. These DNA segments were however much more fragmentary and scattered, which suggest a more ancient origin and a genetic mixing that took place further back in time.
The study (Genome-wide Ancestry Patterns in Rapanui Suggest Pre-European Admixture with Native Americans) has been published in the journal Current Biology. And the researchers suggest that Polynesians sailed to South America and met with Native Americans around the 13th or 14th century. Or perhaps the other way around, with Native Americans sailing to Easter Island.
Signs that Polynesians have met with Native Americans has been suggested in the past, but concrete evidence has been lacking. The study Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America? examines several proxy sources of genetic data to establish when these were first cultivated and appeared in the Americas. For example, the Sweet potato was domesticated in the Andean highlands, and researchers recently determined that the crop spread west across Polynesia before Europeans arrived.
These new findings are not definitive enough to conclude with certainty that this is indeed the case. But it does provide more credence to the suggestion, and since the Polynesians are recognized as very skilled sailors it would certainly not be surprising.
Genome-wide Ancestry Patterns in Rapanui Suggest Pre-European Admixture with Native Americans
Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America?