DNA suggests contact between Native Americans and Polynesians @1200AD

Hugh

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Very interesting for all of us Thor Heyerdahl fans....

First lines of the article on BBC News...

New evidence has been found for epic prehistoric voyages between the Americas and eastern Polynesia.
DNA analysis suggests there was mixing between Native Americans and Polynesians around AD 1200.
The extent of potential contacts between the regions has been a hotly contested area for decades.
In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl made a journey by raft from South America to Polynesia to demonstrate the voyage was possible.
Until now, proponents of Native American and Polynesian interaction reasoned that some common cultural elements, such as a similar word used for a common crop, hinted that the two populations had mingled before Europeans settled in South America.
Opponents pointed to studies with differing conclusions and the fact that the two groups were separated by thousands of kilometres of open ocean.
Alexander Ioannidis from Stanford University in California and his international colleagues analysed genetic data from more than 800 living indigenous inhabitants of coastal South America and French Polynesia.
They were looking for snippets of DNA that are characteristic of each population and for segments that are "identical by descent" - meaning they are inherited from the same ancestor many generations ago.
"We found identical-by-descent segments of Native American ancestry across several Polynesian islands," said Mr Ioannidis.
"It was conclusive evidence that there was a single shared contact event."


And here's the BBC in full:

 

Brian G Turner

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It was interesting reading that, especially the way Thor Heyerdahl appears to have been exaggerated. :)

Also interesting to read again of his other voyages with new eyes, especially his sailing from Egypt to the Americas in a papyrus boat...
 

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This whole idea blows me away. I can't imagine how you would handle the logistics of a three month ocean voyage on a raft or very small boat with stone age technology. How many trips ended in utter disaster? What drove them to attempt such a thing? It wasn't like you would find an island every week or so, and I would guess that there were islands with no fresh water which would have been next to useless for the voyagers. And to think there had to be at least one successful trip in each direction. Utterly mind blowing.
 

CupofJoe

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This whole idea blows me away. I can't imagine how you would handle the logistics of a three month ocean voyage on a raft or very small boat with stone age technology. How many trips ended in utter disaster? What drove them to attempt such a thing? It wasn't like you would find an island every week or so, and I would guess that there were islands with no fresh water which would have been next to useless for the voyagers. And to think there had to be at least one successful trip in each direction. Utterly mind blowing.
This is what gets me too...
The implicit need and drive for humanity to explore is incredible. The subtle intricate knowledge they must have had and the faith to act on it. Itis stunning.
So when people start to say space aliens built this or the Moon landings were hoaxes, I just think about how much humanity has accomplished with [what we now consider to be] so little.
 

Elckerlyc

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I am not so sure this was all pure exploration. Many migrations in the past were forced on people by overpopulation and famines, climatic changes and invasions by aliens (of the earthly type.)
Very interesting for all of us Thor Heyerdahl fans....

"It was conclusive evidence that there was a single shared contact event."
A single shared contact hints IMHO more at an accidental crossing of the ocean. If you know how to live from the sea, as the Polynesians undoubtedly did, you can survive and endure a lot.

Poon Lim
 

Parson

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I am not so sure this was all pure exploration. Many migrations in the past were forced on people by overpopulation and famines, climatic changes and invasions by aliens (of the earthly type.)

A single shared contact hints IMHO more at an accidental crossing of the ocean. If you know how to live from the sea, as the Polynesians undoubtedly did, you can survive and endure a lot.

Poon Lim
The first point is utterly true. Desperation drives a lot more crazy plans than curiosity. And obviously judging from the "Poon Lim" story (thanks for that) it's more possible that I would have gauged. Still, I would be hard put to believe that the number of those who died didn't far, far, exceed those who were able to survive months at sea with stone age technology.
 

Elckerlyc

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The first point is utterly true. Desperation drives a lot more crazy plans than curiosity. And obviously judging from the "Poon Lim" story (thanks for that) it's more possible that I would have gauged. Still, I would be hard put to believe that the number of those who died didn't far, far, exceed those who were able to survive months at sea with stone age technology.
You don't need cutting-edge technology to survive, but survival skills makes all the difference. These stone age people knew a lot more about how to live from your natural surroundings as I or any other modern-age person does.
That aside, I agree that many will have perished.
 

JimC

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"And to think there had to be at least one successful trip in each direction".

I must have missed the west to east trip - what was the evidence for that?
Seems to me this could be the result of a single event in which a single Columbian fisherman survived.
 

Montero

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Hm, I'd envisioned a mixed crew as they were fleeing from something and/or searching for a new home.
Not guaranteed on the fleeing scenario, and even new home they might hope to find women there. Other than that, I can still see testosterone playing a part. And alcohol. And the women going along to make sure they don't do something so supercharged they get killed. "Let's find a better life by sailing over the horizon in a new direction" sounds like an alcohol and testosterone statement to me..... or at least the possibility. Granted they were clearly great sailors, but pushing the limits like that......
 

Elckerlyc

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Not guaranteed on the fleeing scenario, and even new home they might hope to find women there. Other than that, I can still see testosterone playing a part. And alcohol. And the women going along to make sure they don't do something so supercharged they get killed. "Let's find a better life by sailing over the horizon in a new direction" sounds like an alcohol and testosterone statement to me..... or at least the possibility. Granted they were clearly great sailors, but pushing the limits like that......
That's why I suggested there possibly was a pressing incentive, a threat, like invaders, famine due to overpopulation etc. Explorers usually didn't bring their wives along.
 

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What drove them to attempt such a thing?
I suggested there possibly was a pressing incentive, a threat, like invaders, famine due to overpopulation etc.
In Norse culture, and most Western culture, only the eldest male inherited land. Property and the people living on the land was an income and wealth. Without property you had no future. So younger sons left to find new land. I can easily see people forced to leave their homelands to seek prosperity. That is why men went to the New World of the Americas from Europe, and later to African colonies, Australia and New Zealand, to seek their fortunes. Young men have always been leaving their villages for bigger towns and cities for economic reasons. Of course, there were other reasons like wars, famines, plagues, land enclosures, and religious freedom. Even today, refugees risk drowning, incarceration and starvation to leave their homelands and avoid conflict, or just to seek a better life.
Explorers usually didn't bring their wives along.
Maybe not the kind with a pith helmet and khaki shorts. Those seeking their fortunes; economic refugees, would generally be young, single and male. On the other hand, those escaping famine, expulsion from their land, or religious persecution, would generally be whole family units. I've read that the US Wagon Trains would never have made the journeys west without the strong women holding them together.

In this case, unless we know the reasons they left, it would be impossible to guess. However, it sounds more like they were trading partners.

The genetics should be able to tell this though. If they share y-DNA both ways, then there were men sailing in both directions. If they share mt-DNA both ways, then there were females sailing in both directions.
 

Montero

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The article sadly doesn't give that kind of useful DNA detail.

From visiting Rotorua as a tourist, I learned that in terms of inheritance, the Maori in NZ practiced dividing land up between all the children - the pattern of land ownership would get very complex with a jig-saw of bits of land with your land in lots of pieces, mixed in with pieces belonging to different owners and every so often there would be a negotiation, swapping bits of land between owners so that every owner had a single chunk of land. Then they'd die and it would be split between children and it would start again.
I did a quick google for polynesia and didn't bring up anything, but there was this interesting Wikipedia article on different inheritance laws and there is all sorts of ways it can be done. Historical inheritance systems - Wikipedia
 

Dave

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From visiting Rotorua as a tourist, I learned that in terms of inheritance, the Maori in NZ practiced dividing land up between all the children
I think that happens in other cultures too, so what I said isn't true everywhere. The problem with that is that, if the population is increasing, then in each generation families must survive on a decreasing amount of land, until they eventually starve, or some leave. The benefit is that, if the population is stable, everyone is happy and there are no conflicts over resources.
 

JimC

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Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir went on the expeditions. She was possibly the most widely traveled person in the world in the 11th century.
 

Brian G Turner

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There's an interesting rebuttal to the original news here:

The argument given there is that the DNA evidence came from much later immigrants, rather than explorers from early America around 1200AD.

They also claim there's no significant sea-faring evidence in south America at the time - but that it would have been perfectly feasible for Polynesians to have reached South America. Additionally, that the introduction of South American fruit and loan words would have been carried by the Polynesians back to their homelands and own trading networks.

I have to admit, the argument does make a lot of sense, especially by putting the Polynesians at the heart of developments, especially considering what excellent seafarers they were.

I'm sure there will be more research on this to come. :)
 
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