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Epic pre-Columbian voyage suggested by genes

Wooden canoes like this one from Easter Island may have brought Native Americans and Polynesians together.
Polynesians from Easter Island and natives of South America met and mingled long before Europeans voyaged the Pacific, according to a new genetic study of living Easter Islanders. In this week’s issue of Current Biology, researchers argue that the genes point to contact between Native Americans and Easter Islanders before 1500 C.E., 3 centuries after Polynesians settled the island also known as Rapa Nui, famous for its massive stone statues. Although circumstantial evidence had hinted at such contact, this is the first direct human genetic evidence for it.

In the genomes of 27 living Rapa Nui islanders, the team found dashes of European and Native American genetic patterns. The European genetic material made up 16% of the genomes; it was relatively intact and was unevenly spread among the Rapa Nui population, suggesting that genetic recombination, which breaks up segments of DNA, has not been at work for long. Europeans may have introduced their genes in the 19th century, when they settled on the island.

Native American DNA accounted for about 8% of the genomes. Islanders enslaved by Europeans in the 19th century and sent to work in South America could have carried some Native American genes back home, but this genetic legacy appeared much older. The segments were more broken and widely scattered, suggesting a much earlier encounter—between 1300 C.E. and 1500 C.E.

But did Polynesians land on South American beaches, or did Native Americans sail 3500 kilometers into the Pacific to reach Rapa Nui? “Our studies strongly suggest that Native Americans most probably arrived [on Rapa Nui] shortly after the Polynesians,” says team member Erik Thorsby, an immunologist at the University of Oslo. He thinks that could support the controversial theory, posited by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl more than a half-century ago, that Native Americans had the skills to move west across the Pacific.

But many scientists say that Pacific currents and Polynesian mastery of the waves make it more likely that the Polynesians were the voyagers. They may have sailed to South America, swapped goods for sweet potatoes and other novelties—and returned to their island with South American women.

Sweet potato was domesticated in the Andean highlands, and researchers recently determined that the crop spread west across Polynesia before Europeans arrived. Another hint of trans-Pacific exchange comes from chicken bones—unknown in the Americas before 1500 C.E.—excavated on a Chilean beach, which some believe predate Christopher Columbus.

Skeptics say that genetic evidence from modern human populations is not enough to prove ancient contact. The genetic clock is often uncertain, says anthropologist Carl Lipo of California State University, Long Beach. “We need ancient DNA from skeletal evidence—not modern evidence—to resolve this question.”

*Clarification, 27 October, 11:50 a.m.: Erik Thorsby is described as supporting the hypothesis that Native Americans voyaged on their own to Easter Island. Thorsby, like most scientists, believes it much more likely that Polynesians brought Native Americans to the island.

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By Andrew Lawler 23 October 2014 12:00 pm 9 Comments

news.sciencemag.org

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Evidence of early Polynesian settlement dating back to the early 1300s has been uncovered within a stone’s throw of central Whitianga, in a discovery of national significance.

A team of five archaeologists has spent two months at one of the Coromandel Peninsula’s largest excavation sites by the Taputapuatea stream, at a housing development on the outskirts of the Coromandel town.

According to archaeologist Andrew Hoffman, the site has been identified as a Polynesian settlement from the 1300s used for cooking and gardening. It also had a specialist working area for making tools and repairing waka. Among the hundreds of artefacts unearthed are rare large sized hangi oven stones, moa fish hooks, basalt and chert rock tools, a large midden, and flakes of unused rock.

The site revealed a sequence of flooding events that enabled archaeologists to establish that Polynesians would use the site for a season and then move on.

Trenches dug up to 1.5m deep reveal profiles of layers of varied sediments and radiocarbon dating of site artefacts suggest the settlement was occupied between 1310 and 1490, said Hoffman.

A large deep hole lined with large black rocks revealed an earth oven that was still greasy. Hoffman said it was rare to find earth ovens of this size and it was probably used for cooking animals like seals.

Heritage New Zealand Maori heritage advisor, Makere Rika-Heke said this discovery was a reaffirmation of some of the old traditions kept by local people which have been played out along the landscape.

The site beside Taputapuatea stream is at the base of a hill that is home to Te Wahine Moeroa o Taputapuatea Pa.

The location has significant links to Taputapuatea Marae on the coast of Raiatea, Tahiti, the ancestral and spiritual homeland of the waka- voyaging ancestors who crossed the Pacific and established themselves in Aotearoa.

It is said that Kupe, the great Polynesian explorer who voyaged to Aotearoa from Hawaiki bathed in the hot springs of Te Whitianga a Kupe after he moored his waka in Mercury Bay. He named the stream and pa after the Tahitian Taputapuatea marae because of its similar natural flora and fauna.

Rapanui (Easter Island), Hawaii, Arahurahu Island in Tahiti, Moorea Island and a reef in the Kermedec Islands all have sites of significance referring to Taputapuatea.

The artefacts and 4000 photographs taken will be analysed and recorded over the next two months.

However, the public will not be able to view the site as it is in the middle of re-filling for a subdivision block.

Original article:
By CLAIRE FITZJAMES
stuff.co.nz

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DIG THIS: Archaeologist Andrew Hoffman displays a stone adze recovered from an archaeology dig on a new housing development at Whitianga.

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Chicken bones tell true story of Pacific migration.

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Researchers gain new insights into ancient Pacific settlers’ diet.

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HUNTING NOTCHES An ancient piece of carved bone (both sides shown) was probably the base of a spear point that inhabitants of Timor attached to a wooden or bamboo shaft. The artifact is slightly less than one inch long and about one-half inch wide.

Topic: Spear points
A 35,000-year-old piece of carved bone found on Timor, an island between Java and Papua New Guinea, indicates that complex hunting weapons were manufactured much earlier than previously thought in Australasia.

A team led by archaeologist Sue O’Connor of Australian National University in Canberra has unearthed, in a project that began in 2000, what it regards as the broken butt of a bone spear point. Three closely spaced notches and part of a fourth were carved on each side of the artifact, above a shaft that tapers to a rounded bottom.

Wear on the notches and residue of a sticky substance close to the bottom suggest the point was tied and glued to a slot on the side of a wooden handle or inserted into a split hollow shaft, the researchers report January 15 in the Journal of Human Evolution.

Until now, comparably complex hunting weapons made on islands near Timor dated to no more than several hundred years ago. Curiously, 80,000- to 90,000-year-old African bone spear points display notches similar to those on the Timor find, O’Connor says.

Stone Ag Islanders threw spears from boats at large fish and other sea prey, O’Connor proposes.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated on January 29, 2014, to correct the description of the bone artifacts. They are thought to be parts of spear points, not harpoon points.

original article

science news.org
My links are not working with the wordpress update so you will have to look up the article.

by Bruce Bower
Jan 21, 2014

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Topic: ancient occupation

Prof Veth says the team will also be looking for evidence of any continuing Aboriginal presence between that time and the next known occupation, a 19th century pearling camp. Image: Mushroom Bay, Barrow Island, neomyrtusA NEW archaeological survey will investigate human occupation sites at Barrow Island, from the time it was joined to the mainland between seven and eight thousand years ago.

UWA Archaeologist Professor Peter Veth, who has excavated ancient archaeological sites in the Monte Bello Islands over the past two decades, says Barrow Island is the next logical place to look for sites of human occupation that probably ended as sea levels rose.

“We’d been looking at the opportunity for recovering drowned paleo-landscapes and sites for a long time,” he says.

“You look offshore and you are going to get islands which were once part of the mainland and they register oceanic sea level fluctuations, changing maritime systems, a whole range of configurations of faunas, human economies, behaviours which won’t be the same as those on the retracted mainland today.”

Prof Veth says the team will also be looking for evidence of any continuing Aboriginal presence between that time and the next known occupation, a 19th century pearling camp.

“There are modified glass artefacts, remains of fauna, turtle bones and lots of other materials from that period,” he says.

He says a later occupation appears to be a base for a 1920s trepang (Holothuroidea) fishery.

“We will have one crew working on what we call aerial or open-site survey,” he says.

“The second will be working on [two] rock shelters or caves. The Indigenous archaeology [is] quite substantial and should have good deposits.

“The third crew will be working down on Bandicoot Bay on the historic pearling camp and they will be surveying the extent of the site and … doing limited test excavations in the historic material area.”

The excavation team will employ what he describes as “wet sieving”, a newly-developed technique designed to retrieve minute particles of organic matter such as bone fragments, seeds and charcoal on site.

“We’re using super-fine sieves,” he says.

“We’ll be setting up what are called floatation bins or ponds, and everything that comes from the deposit will actually be wet-sieved and anything organic right down to one millimetre will be retrieved.

“We hope to get charcoal from fuel that’s many thousands of years old … possibly up to about 40 [or] 45 [thousand years].

“[Also collected will be] seeds and plants that people may have eaten, and tiny things like fish bones and remains of mammals that you normally wouldn’t get.”

Original article:
sciencemag.net
May 30, 2013

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Topic: Ancients in New Zealand

A University of Otago-led multidisciplinary team of scientists have shed new light on the diet, lifestyles and movements of the first New Zealanders by analysing isotopes from their bones and teeth.

In research published today in the prestigious international journal PLOS ONE, the team are able to identify what is likely to be the first group of people to colonise Marlborough’s Wairau Bar possibly from Polynesia around 700 years ago. They also present evidence suggesting that individuals from two other groups buried at the site had likely lived in different regions of New Zealand before being buried at Wairau Bar.

The researchers, co-ordinated by the Department of Anatomy’s Associate Professor Hallie Buckley, undertook isotopic analyses of samples recovered from the koiwi tangata (human remains) of the Rangitane iwi tupuna prior to their reburial at Wairau Bar in 2009.

The Wairau Bar Koiwi Project is part of a larger archaeological project being conducted in collaboration with the Rangitane iwi, the Canterbury Museum and the University of Otago. The interpretation of these new data was strengthened by collaboration with colleagues from SPAR, the University of Otago archaeologists who undertook the more recent archaeological excavations at the site.

“By examining ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes present in bone collagen we were able to estimate individuals’ broad dietary makeup over a 10-20 year period prior to death. Our analysis of strontium isotopes in teeth allowed us to distinguish between people growing up in geologically different landscapes,” says Dr Rebecca Kinaston, who conducted the isotope analyses on the bones and teeth.

The tupuna were originally buried in three separate groups in a large village at the Wairau site. First excavated over 70 years ago, this ancient settlement is one of the most important archaeological sites in New Zealand because of its age and the range of east Polynesian type artefacts found there.

Previous research found that one of the burial groups displayed distinct cultural differences to the two other burial groups at the site. These included the positions in which they were interred and the presence of more numerous and rich grave offerings, including whale bone ornaments and moa eggs generally not found with the other two groups.

The new isotopic analysis of bone collagen and teeth suggests that members of this first group shared similar diets and childhood origins, while individuals in Groups 2 and 3 displayed highly variable diets and spent their childhood in geologically different areas to Group 1.

“Interestingly, Group 1 individuals showed a dietary trend similar to that identified in prehistoric individuals from a site in the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia, with both sets of people sharing a low diversity in protein sources,” Dr Kinaston says.

In contrast, dietary patterns in Groups 2 and 3 were found to be in line with individuals who spent most of their lives eating from a wide range of protein sources, such as would be available through New Zealand’s then bountiful seal, moa and other bird populations.

The large range found in Group 2 and 3’s strontium isotope ratios could reflect that they grew up in regions outside of Wairau Bar—but not where Group 1 did—and also that they were hunting and gathering across a wide geographical range, says Associate Professor Hallie Buckley.

“This is consistent with other archaeological evidence that the first settlers in New Zealand were highly mobile. That members of Groups 2 and 3 were still buried back at Wairau suggests that this village may have fulfilled both a ceremonial and home base function.”

If this is the case, this may represent the roots of the tangihanga ritual, in which Maori are buried in their ancestral lands, developing among these first New Zealanders, Associate Professor Buckley says.

Original article:
otago.ac.nz
May 16, 2013

Info on Wairau Bar

This site is known as Wairau Bar, because a bar or bank of gravel has formed where the Wairau River meets the sea. Early Polynesians used the site as a moa-hunting camp, and archaeological excavations have revealed the butchered remains of countless huge birds, together with human skeletons. As the moa is now thought to have become extinct very quickly, possibly within 100–200 years of human settlement, those who hunted it must have been among the first generations of Polynesian arrivals. In addition, the types of cultural objects (artefacts) found with skeletons at Wairau Bar are of a distinct early form that has close affinities with artefacts from the Cook, Society and Marquesas islands in East Polynesia.

Found on:
teara,govt.nz

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