Two different studies in in Nature Ecology & Evolution and Current Biology looked at the genetic variation of people inhabiting Vanuatu to help answer the question when did humans settle the Pacific, likely the last region on Earth to be occupied by us. Lead author of the study in Current Biology, David Reich, from Harvard Medical School, who stated that the population served as gateway to the rest of the Pacific. The first populations belonged to the Lapita culture.
They traveled from Taiwan between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago, and reached Vanuatu about 3,000 years ago. Cosimo Posth, from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany and co-author of the study in Nature Ecology & Evolution theorizes that their unique outrigger canoe technology helped carry culture and agriculture from the Austronesian family as far west as Madagascar and as far east as Rapa Nui. The Lapita voyages represent the most extensive dispersal of agricultural people in history.
As you may know, Oceanic people have varying amounts of ancestry from “Papuan” populations. One idea was that the Lapita mixed with people speaking Papuan languages early in their voyages, spreading both types of ancestry throughout the region. These studies show that Vanuatuans as far back as 2,900 years ago were genetically similar to present-day populations such as the Ami who live in Taiwan.
Mostly males of Papuan genetic ancestry arrived in the islands around 2,600 years ago. They began admixing with Lapita, and replaced genetic populations without a replacement in the language. The people of Vanuatu today speak Austronesian languages like those presumably spoken by the Lapita.
Other more eastern peoples of the Pacific, such as people living in Polynesia, derive their Papuan ancestry from a different source to the one that populated Vanuatu. All these easterns populations were settled much later, about 1,500 years after the Lapita expansion, implying at least two movements of Papuan ancestry out into the Pacific and after the initial Lapita migrations.