Recently, the researchers revealed that the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island met and interbred with Native Americans long before Westerners arrived.
Easter Island is located in the middle of the Pacific, 2300 miles (3700 km) west of South America and 1100 miles (1170 km) from the closest island, standing huge stone figures that still gaze mysteriously from the hillsides.
Certainly, the ancient Polynesians, also known as Rapa Nui, who populated Easter Island were not actually as isolated as the researchers believed. The study proposed that these ancient people had significant contact with Native Americans hundreds of years ago, before the westerners reached the Island in 1722.
Rapa Nui’s developed a distinct culture best known for the 900 monumental head-and torso stone statues called as moai erected around Easter Island. The culture flourished around 1200 and declined by the 16th century.
Though, the genetic data on 27 Easter island revealed that mating between the Rapa Nui’s and Native Americans in South America occurred roughly between 1300 and 1500.
“We discovered the evidence of gene flow between Rapa Nui and the Native Americans, proposing an ancient ocean migration route between Polynesia and the Americas,” Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, geneticist of the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen who led the study stated.
Moreover, the genetic analysis signifies that either Rapa Nui moved to South America or Native American traveled to Easter Island. There is a possibility that Rapa Nui’s making the strenuous ocean round trips.
Mark Stoneking, a geneticist with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology who collaborated on a related study of Brazil’s indigenous Botocudo people stated that, “It seems most likely that the Rapa Nui people journeyed to South America and brought South Americans back to Easter Island and admixed with them. So, it will be exciting to see if in further studies any signal of Polynesian, Rapa Nui ancestry can be found in South Americans.”
While journeying to South America and back, the Rapa Nui people may have spent hazardous weeks in wooden outrigger canoes. The intermixing occurred 19 to 23 generations ago, researchers concluded. They said that the Polynesian people (Rapa Nui’s) are not believed to have started mixing with Europeans until much later, the 19th century. The genetic ancestry of today’s Rapa Nui people is roughly 75% Polynesian, 15% European and 10% Native American, Malaspinas said.
Eske Willerslev, University of Copenhagen geneticist of the Center for GeoGenetics, who led the study on the Botocudos stated, “How is it possible that the two Rapa Nui’s belonging to the Botocudos came into Brazil is the million-dollar question.”
Stoneking said, “The findings of the study propose these Polynesians reached South America and made their way to Brazil, either landing on the western coast of the continent and crossing the interior or traveling around Tierra del Fuego and up the east coast.”