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Archaeology & History

Did Easter Islanders sail to South America ?

By T.K. Randall
October 13, 2017 · Comment icon 21 comments

Did the Easter Islanders have contact with Native Americans ? Image Credit: CC BY 2.5 Honey Hooper
A new study has cast doubt on the idea that the island's inhabitants had contact with Native Americans.
A small land mass of only 60 square miles, Easter Island has remained something of an enigma for years. Its army of strange stone statues and the fate of its original inhabitants are mysteries that continue to draw both intrigue and puzzlement.

More recently, scientists have put forward the idea that the Easter Islanders may have actually travelled to South America across 1,200 miles of open ocean and made contact with the Native American people long before the first Europeans had arrived on the continent.
In 2014, a genetic study seemed to indicate that the island's modern inhabitants had inherited around 8% of their DNA from Native Americans, but now a second study, which involved sequencing the genomes of the original inhabitants of the island before and after European contact, showed no evidence of Native American ancestry whatsoever.

"We were really surprised we didn't find anything," said anthropologist Lars Fehren-Schmitz. "There's a lot of evidence that seems plausible, so we were convinced we would find direct evidence of pre-European contact with South America, but it wasn't there."

"This study highlights the value of ancient DNA to test hypotheses about past population dynamics."

Source: Science Magazine | Comments (21)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #12 Posted by Essan 7 years ago
Are you saying Pangea only broke up after the fall of the Roman Empire?!
Comment icon #13 Posted by paperdyer 7 years ago
No, but some of the maps of that time showed land masses we can't find today.  If there was an "Atlantis" maybe a huge plate adjustment took it out.  Of course this is complete speculation on my part.  Just putting some "theories" out there. Much like the UFO people.  Also my meds are wearing off.  Time for more.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Essan 7 years ago
Seriously, the spread of people across the Pacific is no great mystery if you understand how skilled the people were at navigation.   And there are no proper maps of land masses in the Pacific - or Atlantic - (other than the islands we see today) - nor any geological evidence for any having existed for tens of millions of years.  
Comment icon #15 Posted by Parsec 7 years ago
I add that maps in the past weren't as precise as today's.  A huge chunk of the world was literally uncharted, and the one that was charted, wasn't so well represented.  So we have to be very careful when reading ancient maps.    Since you cited the Romans, in their maps (especially about Africa) where they didn't know what was there, they usually wrote "hic sunt leones" that translates "here there are lions". It meant that they had no idea what was there exactly, so probably there was something dangerous.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Myles 7 years ago
Although the trip itself was dangerous, hitting South America would be very likely if the didn't succumb to the ocean.     Getting back to Easter Island would have been tough.
Comment icon #17 Posted by Solipsi Rai 7 years ago
Polynesians might landed in the Pacific coasts of North and South America - the Haida people of British Columbia, Canada who we associate as Native Americans or First Nations people, are thought to have Polynesian visitations. It's possible for Native Hawaiians to travel the changing California currents to taken them to the west coast. And yes, Easter Islanders could gone far to Peru and Chile as well vice versa. Norwegian anthropologist Thor Hederyahl theorized this in the 1940s with his Polynesian-themed boat MonTiki sailed from Peru to Tahiti - about 4,000 miles across the South Pacific. Th... [More]
Comment icon #18 Posted by Bavarian Raven 7 years ago
Doubtful - salt water would kill sweet potatoes (not to mention they sink unless dried out/dead). And why would a bird carry one for thousands of kms?
Comment icon #19 Posted by Bavarian Raven 7 years ago
I know this. But sweet potato seeds have a very low germination rate: they mainly spread by tubers. Either way, if one happened to cross the ocean on flotsam (without being sterilized by the salt water) and just happened to grow and reproduce, I would like to meet the brave soul who decided to try this mystery food!   
Comment icon #20 Posted by Hammerclaw 7 years ago
Polynesians were master navigators who sailed the great Pacific long before Europeans ventured out upon the open ocean. They used the stars and the subtle signs of ocean swells rebounding off distant shores to home in on their targets. Far from being a matter of luck, it was a skill passed on verbally and by experience from father to son, generation after generation.  If they could detect tiny  Easter Island, so isolated and remote, finding a continent would have been a piece of cake.                                        [More]
Comment icon #21 Posted by Bavarian Raven 7 years ago
Doubtful. The most probable answer is that Polynesians made trips to S.A. And back again. The simplest solution is usually the right solution...  cheers  

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