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DNA Study Suggests Contact Between Ancient Polynesians and South Americans

Thursday, July 9, 2020

IRAPUATO, MEXICO—According to a New York Times report, a genetic study provides evidence of contact between ancient Polynesians and indigenous South Americans around A.D. 1200. Comparing the DNA of more than 800 people from Polynesian islands and South America's Pacific Coast, researchers led by Andrés Moreno-Estrada of Mexico's National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity found that some people from Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, and surrounding islands have Native American ancestry that derives from individuals of the pre-Columbian Zenu culture, who lived some 800 years ago in what is now Colombia. The geneticists suggest that Polynesians journeyed to South America, bringing back Zenu individuals to the Marquesas and interbreeding with them. Alternatively, they posit, indigenous South Americans could themselves have sailed to eastern Polynesia and encountered Polynesians who had traveled there from farther east. Critics of the study noted similarities between the latter scenario and the controversial claims of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who suggested that South Americans settled Polynesia. For more on recent research on Rapa Nui, go to "Around the World: Chile."

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