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Genetic Study Questions Idea of Early Easter Island Contacts

Friday, October 13, 2017

Easter Island genesSANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA—A new genetic study casts doubt on the ideas that the Polynesians who populated Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, had contact with Native Americans from South America before the arrival of Europeans in the eighteenth century. According to a report in Live Science, scientists led by Lars Fehren-Schmitz of the University of California Santa Cruz examined genetic samples obtained from the skeletal remains of five individuals unearthed at Ahu Nau Nau, one of the sites where enormous statues called moai are found on the island. The bones ranged in age from as early as 1445 to the early twentieth century. Fehren-Schmitz wants to know when the gene flow between Native Americans and the people of Rapa Nui occurred, and says studying the ancient populations of other islands could offer additional evidence. But an earlier study conducted by Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo detected genetic markers typical of Native Americans in some Rapa Nui skeletons. He thinks that just a few people from South America may have reached the island, which lies 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. Their genes “may be easily missed when ancient DNA from only five individuals are investigated,” he said. For more on genetic studies, see “The Heights We Go To.”

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