More than 3,000 years ago, a group of people set out from the Solomon Island chain in the southwestern edge of the Pacific Ocean and steered their outrigger canoes toward the horizon, with no land as far as their eyes could see. These people and their descendants were the first to cross more than 350 kilometers stretches of open ocean into a region known as Remote Oceania. Now, DNA sequences are for the first time telling us more about the ancestral origins of these people, and their genetic legacy that lives on in Pacific Islanders today.
A scientific team led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, University College Dublin, and the Max Planck institute for the Science of Human History, and including Binghamton University Associate Professor of Anthropology Andrew D. Merriwether, analyzed DNA from people who lived in Tonga and Vanuatu between 2,500 and 3,100 years ago, and were among the first people to live in these islands. The results overturn the leading genetic model for this last great movement of humans to unoccupied but habitable lands.
A 3,000-year-old burial in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu that is source of one of the ancient DNA samples reported on in this study. It is a triangular bone arrangement, with skulls at each vertex, lying on the legs of a skeleton without a skull. Credit: Frédérique ValentinClose
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