Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins

Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins


The Polynesian motif defines a lineage of human mtDNA that is restricted to Austronesian-speaking populations and is almost fixed in Polynesians. It is widely thought to support a rapid dispersal of maternal lineages from Taiwan <4000 years ago (4 ka), but the chronological resolution of existing control-region data is poor, and an East Indonesian origin has also been proposed. By analyzing 157 complete mtDNA genomes, we show that the motif itself most likely originated >6 ka in the vicinity of the Bismarck Archipelago, and its immediate ancestor is >8 ka old and virtually restricted to Near Oceania. This indicates that Polynesian maternal lineages from Island Southeast Asia gained a foothold in Near Oceania much earlier than dispersal from either Taiwan or Indonesia 3 4 ka would predict. However, we find evidence in minor lineages for more recent two-way maternal gene flow between Island Southeast Asia and Near Oceania, likely reflecting movements along a voyaging corridor between them, as previously proposed on archaeological grounds. Small-scale mid-Holocene movements from Island Southeast Asia likely transmitted Austronesian languages to the long-established Southeast Asian colonies in the Bismarcks carrying the Polynesian motif, perhaps also providing the impetus for the expansion into Polynesia.


  • Soares, Pedro; Rito, Teresa; Trejaut, Jean; Mormina, Maru; Hill, Catherine; Tinkler-Hundal, Emma; Braid, Michelle; Clarke, Douglas J.; Loo, Jun-Hun; Thomson, Noel; Denham, Tim; Donohue, Mark; Macaulay, Vincent; Lin, Marie; Oppenheimer, Stephen & Richards, (2011). Ancient Voyaging and Polynesian Origins. American journal of human genetics, 88(2), 239-247.

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