Did the Polynesians reach South America before Columbus

Polynesia & America: Contact long before the arrival of Europeans

In recent years, researchers studying human DNA have also joined the debate. They took a look at the genomes of the residents of Rapa Nui, famous for its towering stone moai statues. A 2014 study of the DNA of 27 people on the island found that around 8 percent of their genetic makeup came from Native American ancestors. These earlier results suggested that the two groups mingled as early as 1340 AD - centuries before Europeans first made contact with the Rapa Nui residents in 1722 and later raided their island in search of slaves.

For the new study, an international, multidisciplinary team examined the genomes of more than 800 individuals from 17 different Polynesian islands, including Rapa Nui, as well as 15 different indigenous groups on South America's coasts. "Previous studies have only focused on the possibility that [Rapa Nui] might be the point of contact," says lead author Andrés Moreno-Estrada, a geneticist at the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity in Mexico. "We are expanding the question to also explore other options in the Pacific."

The researchers found that contact between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group related to today's indigenous people of Colombia occurred as early as 1150 AD. That is two centuries earlier than stated in the 2014 DNA study. The place where researchers found the earliest signs of contact was Fatu Hiva, an island in the southern Marquesas.