Indigenous South Americans reached islands in the South Pacific some 300 years before Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, according to new genetic evidence.
New genetic research published today in Nature links indigenous South Americans to Polynesian Islanders. Incredibly, it seems a group from what is today Colombia voyaged to the South Pacific around 1200 CE, reaching islands thousands of miles away. Once there, they mingled with the local Polynesian population, leaving their genetic and possibly cultural legacy behind, according to the new research, co-authored by Stanford University biologist Alexander Ioannidis.
Archaeologists and anthropologists have been wondering about this potential link for decades, but evidence has been limited, inconclusive, and speculative.
While sailing through Polynesia during the 18th century, for example, Captain Cook documented the presence of sweet potatoes on South Pacific islands—a weird finding, given this root vegetable’s origins in South America. Scientists took this as evidence of indigenous South Americans traveling to the Pacific Islands or Polynesians traveling to South America and returning home with their sweet potato stash. This theory was challenged two years ago in a Current Biology study, in which the authors argued that the sweet potato arrived in Polynesia some 100,000 years ago, long before humans ventured to this part of the world.
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