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An illustration of ancient Polynesians

New study suggests that the Philippines is the ancestral homeland of Polynesians

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Research into the origins and dispersal of Polynesian chickens has helped scientists reconstruct the early migrations of the Polynesians and the animals they carried with them.  The results revealed that the Philippines is the most likely ancestral homeland of the Polynesians , whose forebears colonised the Pacific about 3,200 years ago.

Polynesian seafarers explored vast areas of the Pacific and settled nearly every inhabitable island in the Pacific Ocean well before European explorers arrived in the 16 th century.  However, the ancestral relationships of people living in the widely scattered islands of the Pacific Ocean have long puzzled anthropologists.  The predominant theory is that the Polynesian people are a subset of the sea-faring Austronesian people who have their origins in Taiwan, having arrived there through South China about 8000 years ago.  From there it is believed that the spread out across the Pacific to Polynesia, a sub-region made up of over 1,000 islands scattered over the central and southern Pacific Ocean.

A map depicting the expansion of Austronesian languages

A map depicting the expansion of Austronesian languages. Image source: Wikipedia

It is thought that by roughly 1400 BC, the ‘Lapita People’, so-named after their pottery tradition, appeared in the Bismark Archipelago of northwest Melanesia. This culture is seen as having adapted and evolved through time and space since its emergence "Out of Taiwan".  Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita archaeological culture spread 6,000 km until it reached as far as Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa.

However, the belief that the Lapita people are related to the Polynesians has long been debated , and direct links between Lapita and mainland Southeast Asia are still missing, due to a lack of data in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The face of Mana, a Lapita woman

The face of Mana, a Lapita woman whose face was reconstructed using a model of her skull which was excavated from an early human settlement at Naitabale in Fiji. Photo source .

In the latest study published in the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers led by Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD), at the University of Adelaide used ancient DNA to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens.  They found that Polynesian chickens had their genetic roots in the Philippines, making that region a candidate for the homeland of the mysterious Lapita people who transported the domesticated birds to the Pacific islands.

"We don't find this [genetic] signature anywhere else in the world except in the Philippines and neighbouring areas," said Professor Cooper.

However, he also stressed that the Philippines could merely have been a stopover point for the ancient mariners. Further research is now been conducted on modern chickens in Southeast Asia to see where the genetic trail leads.

Featured image: An illustration of ancient Polynesians. Photo source .

By April Holloway

Comments

"Also, Polynesians don't look like the current inhabitants of the Philippines or Indonesia (where there are also linguistic similarities)."
I was born in New Zealand. I lived thirty years in Polynesia. The following thirty years in South East Asia, in particular the last ten years in the Philippines. I could be living back in Polynesia. The languages must be related vis - same words in the Philippines matching words in Malay and Malay words being too similar to Maori words to have any doubt that they are connected, given of course time and external influence from Indian (Sri Vajaya and Majapahit). I invite you to take another look.

Hi RSHAW.
I believe that genetic similarities that your ancestor share with South Asia has got to do with the Indo-Aryan dispersion. The indo-aryan people shares a lot of facial similarity with the German people (blonde hair, blue eyes) . I remember being in the border between Pakisatn and afghanistan and the natives there look like European.. Maybe you should consider looking at the Malaysian native orang asli because they got more facial similarities with the Polynesians compared to other asian groups.

All this means is that the chickens came from the Philippines. I've heard stories from India and Nepal that suggest a possible connection/origin for Polynesians there. Interestingly enough, my uncle (about 40% native Hawaiian) did one of those ancestry DNA tests, and it came back as part South Asian. He's only Hawaiian/German (maybe also Polish)/Scottish (via Connecticut)...so, where did the South Asian ancestry come from? Granted, the test could be skewed, it would be interesting if more family members could take it and compare results. Also, Polynesians don't look like the current inhabitants of the Philippines or Indonesia (where there are also linguistic similarities).

I don't find the argument about the genetic roots of chickens very compelling. I'm reminded of a detail from the Lewis & Clark expidition. The Americans spent the winter of 1804-05 with the Mandan tribe. They employed one man at manufacturing hatchets from scrap iron - hoping to use them to buy food and horses along the way. When the expidition arrived at the Columbia River they soon learned some of those hatchets had arrived long before them. I expect chickens might be a satisfactory exchange medium for trading among unrelated people as well.

Another objection is that the study being dicussed seems to be written from the perspective of a person with a fixed address. I'm speculating that the islanders (men at least) viewed the ocean as their home and thought of the islands as convenient rest stops. Point being that once they learned to navigate the could've spread thru the whole southern hemisphere in just a few years - not centuries.

The Indus valley rongorongo writings are if not the same but very similar to the rongorongo tablets found on Easter Island. Why does everyone over look that? Its such an important piece to include in the puzzle. How can writings end up on Easter Island 2000 miles apart 500 years apart...?

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