Tags: easter islanders | native americans | contact

Easter Islanders, Native Americans Had Contact Long Before Thought

Image: Easter Islanders, Native Americans Had Contact Long Before Thought
Picture taken 12 February 2005 shows a tourist walking behind a platform with seven huge statues (moais in Rapa Nui language), the only ones facing the sea, in Ahu Akivi in Easter Island, Chile. (Martin Bernetti/AFP/Getty Images)

Friday, 24 Oct 2014 08:29 PM

Experts say Easter Islanders and Native Americans had significant contact hundreds of years before Westerners reached the island in 1722, meaning the Islanders weren't so isolated as originally thought.

Scientists who conducted a genetic study, published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology, found that ancient people on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, had significant contact with Native Americans long before 1722, Reuters reported.

The Easter Islanders created a unique culture best known for the 900 monumental head-and-torso stone statues known as moai erected around Easter Island. The culture flourished starting around 1200 until falling into decline by the 16th century.

Genetic data on 27 Easter Island natives indicated that interbreeding between the Rapa Nui and native people in South America occurred roughly between 1300 and 1500.

"We found evidence of gene flow between this population and Native American populations, suggesting an ancient ocean migration route between Polynesia and the Americas," said geneticist Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas of the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, who led the study.

The genetic evidence indicates either that Rapa Nui people traveled to South America or that Native Americans journeyed to Easter Island. The researchers said it probably was the Rapa Nui people making the arduous ocean round trips.

"It seems most likely that they voyaged from Rapa Nui to South America and brought South Americans back to Rapa Nui and admixed with them," said Mark Stoneking, a geneticist with Germany's Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who collaborated on a related study of Brazil's indigenous Botocudo people. "So it will be interesting to see if in further studies any signal of Polynesian, Rapa Nui ancestry can be found in South Americans."

In making their way to South America and back, the Easter Islanders may have spent perilous weeks in wooden outrigger canoes.

The researchers concluded that the intermixing occurred 19 to 23 generations ago. They said Easter Islanders are not believed to have started mixing with Europeans until much later, the 19th century. Malaspinas said the genetic ancestry of today's Rapa Nui people is roughly 75 percent Polynesian, 15 percent European and 10 percent Native American.

A second study, also published in Thursday's issue of Current Biology, illustrates another case of Polynesians venturing into South America. Two ancient human skulls from Brazil's indigenous Botocudo people, known for the large wooden disks they wore in their lips and ears, belonged to people who were genetically Polynesian, with no detectable Native American ancestry.

"How the two Polynesian individuals belonging to the Botocudos came into Brazil is the million-dollar question," said University of Copenhagen geneticist Eske Willerslev of the Centre for GeoGenetics, who led the study on the Botocudos.

The findings suggest these Polynesians reached South America and made their way to Brazil, either landing on the western coast of the continent and crossing the interior or voyaging around Tierra del Fuego and up the east coast, Stoneking said.

"In either event it is an amazing story," he said.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

 
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Experts say Easter Islanders and Native Americans had significant contact hundreds of years before Westerners reached the island in 1722, meaning the Islanders weren't so isolated as originally thought.
easter islanders, native americans, contact
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2014-29-24
Friday, 24 Oct 2014 08:29 PM
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