Teahupoʻo, on the south-west coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, southern Pacific Ocean. A surf break known as Chopes off the shore is known for its heavy, glassy waves, often reaching 2 to 3 m (7 to 10 ft) and higher. Photo Source: Flick’r
By Sindhya N. Bhanoo, The New York Times
New genetic research reveals that the migratory story of the Polynesians may be more ancient and complicated than previously thought.
The original migration from the mainland may have had to do with sea level rises occurring at the time, and the formation of an archipelago.
For years, it was generally accepted that Polynesians originated in modern-day Taiwan and began moving south and east about 4,000 years ago. This migration account is based on the research of linguists, the findings of archeologists and some genetic analysis.
But a new study in The American Journal of Human Genetics reports that Polynesians began migrating thousands of years earlier, not from Taiwan, but from mainland Southeast Asia.
The study looked at mitochondrial DNA, which gives information about maternal ancestry. The researchers compared DNA samples from more than 4,700 people in Southeast Asia and Polynesia.
Based on this, they determined that Polynesians arrived in the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea at least 6,000 to 8,000 years ago, via Indonesia, and presumably left the mainland about 10,000 years ago.
Linguists believe that Polynesian languages belong to the Austronesian language family, which originated in Taiwan.
Sea Level Rise, Palmyra Atoll. Photo Source: Randy Olson / National Geographic
Though the new research seems to leave the linguists in the lurch, Martin Richards, an archaeogeneticist at the University of Leeds in Britain and one of the study’s authors, believes there might be a reasonable explanation.
“It’s still possible there was the elite movement from Taiwan much later that transferred the language,” he said. “The idea would be that we do have very minor lineages that look like they came to Bismarck about 3,500 years ago and may have caused a language shift.”
The original migration from the mainland may have had to do with natural climate change.
“They may have just ended up there because of sea level rises occurring at the time, and the formation of an archipelago,” Dr. Richards said.