WASHINGTON (Reuters) – New genetic research shows that there was socializing in between ancient native individuals from Polynesia and South America, exposing a single episode of interbreeding roughly 800 years ago after an impressive transoceanic journey.

SUBMIT IMAGE: A native Rapa Nui lady jumps into the sea on Anakena beach on Easter, October 26,2003 REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The concern of such contact – long assumed in part based upon the enduring existence in Polynesia of an essential food in the kind of the sweet potato that came from South and Central America – had been keenly debated amongst researchers.

Researchers stated on Wednesday an examination of DNA from 807 individuals – from 14 Polynesian islands and Pacific coastal Native American populations from Mexico to Chile – definitively resolved the matter.

People from 4 island sites in French Polynesia – Mangareva and the Pallisers in the Tuamotu island chain and Fatu Hiva and Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands – bore DNA indicative of interbreeding with South Americans most closely associated to contemporary indigenous Colombians at around 1200 ADVERTISEMENT.

These islands are approximately 4,200 miles (6,800 km) from South America.

Individuals from Chile’s Rapa Nui, or Easter Island, also had South American origins, some from contemporary Chilean immigrants and some from the same ancient intermingling as the other islands. Rapa Nui, located 2,300 miles (3,700 km) west of South America and understood for its massive stone figures called moai, was settled a long time after the interbreeding 800 years earlier.

The research study left open the question of who made the huge Pacific crossing: Polynesians heading east and arriving in Colombia or possibly Ecuador, or South Americans traveling west.

” I favor the Polynesian theory, because we understand that the Polynesians were intentionally exploring the ocean and discovering a few of the most distant Pacific islands around precisely the time of contact,” stated Stanford University computational geneticist Alexander Ioannidis, lead author of the research study released in the journal Nature.

” If the Polynesians reached the Americas, their trip would likely have been performed in their double-hulled sailing canoes, which sail using the same concept as a modern-day catamaran: swift and stable,” Ioannidis included.

This contact discusses the secret of how the sweet potato got here in Polynesia centuries before European sailors. Ioannidis noted that the sweet potato’s name in lots of Polynesian languages – kumara – resembles its name in some native Andes languages.

Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler

Learn More