DNA offers a new look at how Polynesia was settled

I found an interesting article in the Science News written by Bruce Bower about the Polynesian voyager in the Southsea. Bower wrote earlier already some more intersting  article about this. I will put them all in this post.

I can still remember very well, when as a young child, I leafed through the old books of foreign countries and saw a black and white photo, including sketches of these huge, monster stone sculptures from Easter Island. It was impressive. Even if I still see this today, I have to ask myself who were these people who created such sculptures? I don’t know anything else in the South Seas where such stone figures were built? Do you? Admirable. Even today we still don’t know the purpose, the meaning of these statues. I think it’s just terrific, almost terrifying in a way …..

Voyagers migrated to islands sprinkled across a large area of the Pacific within about 500 years
image of a row of statues on Easter Island
Eastern Polynesia’s settlers rapidly voyaged across a vast area starting nearly 1,200 years ago, a new genetic study finds. Groups with a shared ancestry may have carved massive statues on easternmost islands, including these on Easter Island. Atlantide Phototravel/Getty Images Plus


Polynesian voyagers settled islands across a vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean within about 500 years, leaving a genetic trail of the routes that the travelers took, scientists say.

Comparisons of present-day Polynesians’ DNA indicate that sea journeys launched from Samoa in western Polynesia headed south and then east, reaching Rarotonga in the Cook Islands by around the year 830. From the mid-1100s to the mid-1300s, people who had traveled farther east to a string of small islands called the Tuamotus fanned out to settle Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, and several other islands separated by thousands of kilometers on Polynesia’s eastern edge. On each of those islands, the Tuamotu travelers built massive stone statues like the ones Easter Island is famed for.

That’s the scenario sketched out in a new study in the Sept. 23 Nature by Stanford University computational biologist Alexander Ioannidis, population geneticist Andrés Moreno-Estrada of the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Irapuato, Mexico, and their colleagues.

The new analysis generally aligns with archaeological estimates of human migrations across eastern Polynesia from roughly 900 to 1250. And the study offers an unprecedented look at settlement pathways that zigged and zagged over a distance of more than 5,000 kilometers, the researchers say.

“The colonization of eastern Polynesia was a remarkable event in which a vast area, some one-third of the planet, became inhabited by humans in … a relatively short period of time,” says archaeologist Carl Lipo of Binghamton University in New York, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

Improved radiocarbon dating techniques applied to remains of short-lived plant species unearthed at archaeological sites are also producing a chronology of Polynesian colonization close to that proposed in the genetic study, Lipo says.

In the new investigation, researchers identified DNA segments of exclusively Polynesian origin in 430 present-day individuals from 21 Pacific island populations. Island-specific genetic fingerprints enabled the scientists to reconstruct settlement paths, based on increases in rare gene variants that must have resulted from a small group moving from one island to another and giving rise to a new, larger population with novel DNA twists. Comparisons of shared Polynesian ancestry between pairs of individuals on different islands were used to estimate when settlements occurred.

In an intriguing twist, the DNA evidence “is consistent with the [statue] carving tradition arising once in a single point of common origin, likely the Tuamotu islands,” Moreno-Estrada says. Polynesian ancestry on all the islands with massive statues traces back to the one island in the Tuamotus where the researchers were able to obtain Indigenous peoples’ DNA.

The Tuamotus include nearly 80 islands situated between Tahiti to the west and other islands to the north and east where settlers carved statues. The latter outposts consist of the Marquesas Islands, Mangareva and Rapa Nui. Another late-settled island where inhabitants carved statues, Raivavae, lies southwest of the Tuamotus.

Settlers reached the island of Mataiva in the northern Tuamotus by about 1110, the researchers suggest. Statue makers navigated northward and eastward from Mataiva or perhaps other Tuamotu islands to as far east as Rapa Nui — eventually curving back west before arriving at Raivavae — around the same time as an earlier DNA study suggests eastern Polynesians mated with South Americans (SN: 7/8/20). (It’s not clear whether South Americans crossed the ocean to Polynesia or Polynesians traveled to South America and then returned.)

Ioannidis and colleagues’ conclusions generally support prior scenarios of Polynesia’s settlement, but some disparities exist between their genetic evidence and earlier archaeological and linguistic findings, writes archaeologist Patrick Kirch of the University of Hawaii at Manoa in a commentary published with the new study.

For instance, the new DNA analysis overlooks extensive contacts that occurred across eastern Polynesian in its early settlement stages, Kirch says. Analyses of closely related eastern Polynesian language dialects and discoveries of stone tools that were transported from one island to another point to substantial travels and trading throughout the region during that time.

Kirch, who has previously suggested that these long-distance contacts in eastern Polynesian influenced stone carving traditions, calls the new proposal that people with a shared ancestry brought stone carving to Rapa Nui and other islands “a provocative hypothesis.”

And there’s still no answer to one major question regarding the settlement of the islands, says molecular anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, who didn’t participate in the new research. No current line of evidence can resolve the mystery of why, after spending nearly 2,000 years on Samoa, Tonga and Fiji, Polynesians began voyaging thousands of kilometers eastward in search of new lands.


Easter Islanders sailed to Americas, DNA suggests

Sea crossings occurred well before European contact, genetics of present-day people indicates
Easter Island statue
HEAD EAST People living on Easter Island, known for its carved giant stone statues, sailed to and from the Americas before Europeans reached their South Pacific home, new genetic evidence suggests. Natalia Solar
Bruce BowerBruce Bower


Behavioral Sciences Writer
Bruce Bower has written about the behavioral sciences since 1984. He often writes about psychology, anthropology, archaeology and mental health issues. Bruce has a master’s degree in psychology from Pepperdine University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. Following an internship at Science News in 1981, he worked as a reporter at Psychiatric News, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, until joining Science News as a staff writer. In 1996, the American Psychological Association appointed Bruce a Science Writer Fellow, with a grant to visit psychological scientists of his own choosing. Early stints as an aide in a day school for children and teenagers with severe psychological problems and as a counselor in a drug diversion center provided Bruce with a surprisingly good background for a career in science journalism.

A Brief History of Pirates in Hawaii

True or not ??

Unlike the Caribbean, there hasn’t been a long history of pirate activity in Hawaii. But there is one incident, one that many believe was the last large-scale pirate attack in the territories of the United States, which is truly unbelievable. So unbelievable, in fact, that while the raid was documented by a California newspaper, we’re not totally sure it’s true, as we cannot find other supporting documents. Whether or not it’s true, it’s certainly an intriguing story. Here is the account of the Great Pirate Raid of Honolulu, as reported by the Daily Alta newspaper of San Francisco on December 15, 1884.

This tale begins with the sighting of an unnamed boat, most likely a whaling vessel, off of Diamond Head (Oahu) on December 1, 1884 at around 2:00 PM. The boat soon turned towards the horizon and disappeared from view. However, it returned to Oahu in the evening and moored off the coast of Honolulu, seemingly in distress.

At about 9:00 PM, Colonel Curtis Iaukea, the Collector of the Port, and four men hopped on a small boat to investigate the vessel. At roughly 9:30, when Iaukea’s boat suspiciously didn’t return, a second boat was sent out. It also seemed to have just vanished.

At 10:00 PM, the real action begins. Five boats, filled with armed men, pushed off from the moored vessel and approached land, docking on a wharf. A few fishermen saw the armed men and ran into town, alerting the authorities. A local newspaper reporter heard the fishermen’s stories and walked down to the wharf. He was immediately captured and hogtied. At this point, it was reported there were 70-to-80 armed pirates marching in the streets. Three police officers were soon captured and taken to Nolte’s Coffee Saloon on Fort Street. The Pirates placed armed guards at the door and told the customers no harm would come to them.

At about this same time, a tall, red-bearded pirate captain entered the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and told the innkeepers that no one would get hurt and no one would be robbed, but he wanted the keys to the hotel. The innkeepers obliged and were soon locked up with the rest of the hotel’s inhabitants.

All the action thus far in the night was happening down on the waterfront, away from King Kalakaua and his palace. In the palace, the king was hosting a dinner reception for Attorney General Neumann. Among the guests were the king’s ministers and General A.B Hayley, Commander-in-Chief of the Hawaiian forces. King Kalakaua had a private army of about 40 people, called the “King’s Own”, who were resting in their barracks. There were also armed guards at every entrance of the palace, per the usual.

Once the Royal Hawaiian Hotel was secured, the pirates marched directly to the palace. There, the palace guards, unaware the city was under siege, opened the gates and were immediately overpowered by the pirates. It wasn’t long before the pirates stormed the palace and surrounded the dinner party. General Hayley was able to escape and quickly rallied the King’s Own in an attempt to protect the king. The King’s Own, however, was no match for the pirates and almost immediately laid down their weapons. The king and his dinner guests were rounded up and locked in the dining room.

Now the pirates were free to roam the palace. They stole everything they could walk out with, including a priceless, sacred feather cloak that belonged to the Kamehameha’s.

Very systematically, the pirates tracked down the city’s most prominent businessmen. The first visit was to the home of Frank Pratt, the public registrar who kept the keys to the treasury. He was taken from his bed and forced to open the vaults of the treasury. Inside the vault were $700,000 in Hawaiian currency and $200,000 in American silver and gold.

Following Pratt, the pirates stole $500,000 from the safe of well-known banker C.R. Bishop and $300,000 from local business W.G. Irwin and Co. All told, in less than nine hours, the pirates were able to loot the town of over $2.5 million and large quantities of silver.