With China and Taiwan competing for the affections – and votes in the UN – of Pacific nations, new research shows that Pacific Islanders may have more in common with Taiwan than anybody had previously imagined.
New research claims that the people of the Pacific did not originate among the Papuan people of New Guinea, as originally thought, but in Taiwan.
And Australian archaeologist Professor Matthew Spriggs, from the Australian National University said the researchers had “cracked the problem of the origin of Pacific Islanders, often posed as the ‘origin of the Polynesians’.”
The first modern humans are thought to have spread from South East Asia to Indonesia, New Guinea and Australia about 40,000 years ago.
This has been described as the last great movement of humans into previously uninhabited territory.
However, people did not settle in other parts of what are now referred to as Melanesia and Polynesia until about 1000 BC, travelling in the first boats capable of long distance sea travel.
The settlers brought distinctive pottery with them. Referred to by archeaologists as Lapita pottery, the earthenware containers have given their name to the ancient people, whose real identity has been lost.
As reported recently in Kaniva News last month, Canadian archaeologist Professor David Burley from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver used the presence of Lapita pottery to name Nukulela in Tonga as the starting point of the Polynesian civilisation.
Researchers in Australia, Germany and the Harvard Medical School in the United States tested the genomes taken from the remains of four people who lived in Tonga and Vanuatu between 2700 and 3100 years ago. None of the remains showed any trace of Papuan DNA.
They then compared these with DNA from 778 volunteers living in the islands and other places in East Asia and Oceania.
This showed that all four skeletons contain unique DNA that no longer exists, but is similar to that found in Aboriginal groups from Taiwan and some northern Philippine populations.
“The first people who got to Vanuatu were these Asian populations,” Professor Spriggs said.
The findings were published in the prestigious American journal, Nature.
Professor Spriggs, who was one of several co-authors of the paper, said the Lapita culture in the western Pacific developed from the migration of farmers from the South East Asian islands about 5500 years ago.
It spread through the Philippines and Eastern Indonesia about 4000 years ago and 1000 years later it spread from the islands off New Guinea’s eastern end through the Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji and on to Tonga and Samoa.
About 1000 years ago the migration spread from Western Polynesia to Hawai’i, Easter Island and finally to New Zealand about 700 years ago.
A second wave of settlers from Taiwan appear to have settled in New Guinea and intermingled with the local people. Later the descendants of these people moved into the central Pacific and intermarried with the descendants of the first wave of migration.
The main points
- New research claims that the people of the Pacific did not originate in New Guinea, as originally thought, but in Taiwan.
- Researchers tested DNA from the remains of four people who lived in Tonga and Vanuatu about 3000 years ago and compared it with DNA from volunteers living in the islands and other places in East Asia and the Pacific.
- Analysis showed the DNA of the volunteers was similar to that found in Aboriginal groups from Taiwan and some northern Philippine populations.
- The research was published in the prestigious American journal Nature.
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