Native American gene flow into Polynesia predating Easter Island settlement

Alexander G. Ioannidis, Javier Blanco-Portillo, Karla Sandoval, Erika Hagelberg, Juan Francisco Miquel-Poblete, J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, Juan Esteban Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Consuelo D. Quinto-Cortés, Kathryn Auckland, Tom Parks, Kathryn Robson, Adrian V.S. Hill, María C. Avila-Arcos, Alexandra Sockell, Julian R. Homburger, Genevieve L. Wojcik, Kathleen C. Barnes, Luisa Herrera, Soledad Berríos, Mónica AcuñaElena Llop, Celeste Eng, Scott Huntsman, Esteban G. Burchard, Christopher R. Gignoux, Lucía Cifuentes, Ricardo A. Verdugo, Mauricio Moraga, Alexander J. Mentzer, Carlos D. Bustamante, Andrés Moreno-Estrada

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The possibility of voyaging contact between prehistoric Polynesian and Native American populations has long intrigued researchers. Proponents have pointed to the existence of New World crops, such as the sweet potato and bottle gourd, in the Polynesian archaeological record, but nowhere else outside the pre-Columbian Americas1–6, while critics have argued that these botanical dispersals need not have been human mediated7. The Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl controversially suggested that prehistoric South American populations had an important role in the settlement of east Polynesia and particularly of Easter Island (Rapa Nui)2. Several limited molecular genetic studies have reached opposing conclusions, and the possibility continues to be as hotly contested today as it was when first suggested8–12. Here we analyse genome-wide variation in individuals from islands across Polynesia for signs of Native American admixture, analysing 807 individuals from 17 island populations and 15 Pacific coast Native American groups. We find conclusive evidence for prehistoric contact of Polynesian individuals with Native American individuals (around ad 1200) contemporaneous with the settlement of remote Oceania13–15. Our analyses suggest strongly that a single contact event occurred in eastern Polynesia, before the settlement of Rapa Nui, between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group most closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)572-577
Number of pages6
Issue number7817
StatePublished - Jul 23 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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