We’ve had some ideas that prehistoric Polynesian expansions made contact with Native Americans before European contact. For example, the sweet potato, a staple of Polynesian diets for hundreds of years, made its way to Andean culture where it was domesticated. And we’ve identified that some current Rapa Nui people have Native American DNA dating back to 1,300 to 1,500 years ago.
Andrés Moreno-Estrada and Karla Sandoval continued to build off this study, looking to understand the impact of Polynesians to Native Americans, specifically they Rapa Nui. They analyzed the genomes of 166 people from the island and combined that with 188 Polynesian people from 16 other islands, whose genomes were collected in the 80s. They published their findings in Nature, today.
Not surprisingly, many Polynesian people genomes reflect the genetic impact of European colonialism. An interesting finding however was when the team identified Native American ancestry in islanders from Palliser, the Marquesas, Mangareva, and Rapa Nui. These Native American genetic sequences we nearly identical, indicating contact with one Native American group.
They took their study further and compared these nearly identical sequences to that of 15 indigenous coastal groups. The Zenu, an indigenous group from what we now know is Colombia, were the most similar. This ancestry appeared first on Fatu Hiva in the South Marquesas about 28 generations ago, or to about 1,150 C.E. and was then carried by Polynesian voyagers as they settled other islands, including Rapa Nui.
It is hard to how contact was made, i.e. did Polynesians make contact on South America or was contact made by indigenous South Americans fairing the Pacific. If only we had ancient DNA could we figure this out. Nonetheless, this is a interesting finding that shows contact and gene flow between Native Americans and Polynesians was happening for quite sometime before Europeans set foot on the Americas.