The mystery of how Easter Island came to be inhabited looks set to remain unsolved, after DNA analysis revealed Native Americans did not help to populate the island. Archaeologists have previously suggested people from Polynesia and the Americas intermingled in its early history

South American tribes did not help populate Easter Island

The mystery of how Easter Island came to be inhabited looks set to remain unsolved, after DNA analysis revealed Native Americans did not help to populate the island.

Archaeologists have suggested that sea travel between Polynesia and the Americas was plausible, leading to the intermingling of these cultures in its early history.

The latest study suggests that European explorers who arrived at the island, known indigenously as Rapa Nui, in the 18th century brought South Americans with them.

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The mystery of how Easter Island came to be inhabited looks set to remain unsolved, after DNA analysis revealed Native Americans did not help to populate the island. Archaeologists have previously suggested people from Polynesia and the Americas intermingled in its early history

The mystery of how Easter Island came to be inhabited looks set to remain unsolved, after DNA analysis revealed Native Americans did not help to populate the island. Archaeologists have previously suggested people from Polynesia and the Americas intermingled in its early history

DNA EVIDENCE OF INTERMIXING

Questions surrounding Pacific islanders’ contact with South Americans are hotly debated among anthropologists.

An earlier study found genetic traces of early inhabitants of the Americas in present-day indigenous residents of Easter Island.

Those researchers posited that the intermixing most likely occurred between 1280 and 1425 AD.

This is the first study to use paleogenomic analysis to directly test that hypothesis, with the results placing the date of intermixing after 1722 AD.

Each sample, which had been used in a previous study, yielded less than 200 milligrams of usable material.

Three of the individuals lived prior to European contact, and two lived after.

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz analysed bone fragments from the ancient skeletal remains of five people, which were excavated in the 1980s and became part of the Kon-Tiki Museum’s collection in Oslo.

Some experts believe the island was inhabited from 300 to 400 AD onwards, while others put this date closer to 700 to 800 AD.

Ethnographers, including 20th Century Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, have noted the similarity between the Rapa Nui people and Native American tribes on the landmass’ southern continent.

And DNA from South American tribes can be found in the island’s modern population.

But, by comparing the five samples, the team now believes this was introduced with the arrival of Europeans on the island in 1722 AD.

Lars Fehren-Schmitz, associate professor of anthropology at the university, said: ‘We were really surprised we didn’t find anything.

‘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.

‘We know the island’s modern populations have some Native American ancestry, and now we know that early inhabitants did not. So the big questions remain: Where and when did these groups interact to change the genetic signature of Easter Islanders?’

Exactly who the people were that originally travelled to the island, located nearly 1,300 miles (2,100 km) from the nearest inhabited island and 2,200 miles (3,500 km) from central Chile on the nearest continent of South America, remains a mystery.

Polynesian tribespeople are believed to be responsible but nothing more, other than the islander’s legends and stories, is known about them.

Questions surrounding Pacific islanders’ contact with South Americans are hotly debated among anthropologists.

An earlier study found genetic traces of early inhabitants of the Americas in present-day indigenous residents of Easter Island.

Those researchers posited that the intermixing most likely occurred between 1280 and 1425 AD.

This is the first study to use paleogenomic analysis to directly test that hypothesis, with the results placing the date of intermixing after 1722 AD.

DNA from South American tribes can be found in the island's modern population. The latest study suggests that European explorers who arrived at the island, known indigenously as Rapa Nui, in the 18th century brought South Americans with them

DNA from South American tribes can be found in the island’s modern population. The latest study suggests that European explorers who arrived at the island, known indigenously as Rapa Nui, in the 18th century brought South Americans with them

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz, including Lars Fehren-Schmitz (pictured) analysed bone fragments from the ancient skeletal remains of five people to make the discovery

Researchers from UC Santa Cruz, including Lars Fehren-Schmitz (pictured) analysed bone fragments from the ancient skeletal remains of five people to make the discovery

Each sample, which had been used in a previous study, yielded less than 200 milligrams of usable material.

Three of the individuals lived prior to European contact, and two lived after.

Slavery, whaling, mass deportations, and other activities that followed European contact gave rise to opportunities for intermixing that likely left the genetic imprint seen in islanders today.

‘The most likely scenario is that there wasn’t a single episode,’ Dr Fehren-Schmitz added, acknowledging that his results answer one question but leave many others unanswered.

‘The story is simply more complicated than we expected.’

The full findings of the study were published todya in the journal Current Biology.

As well as their origins, there are also conflicting theories on what caused the downfall of the Rapa Nui civilisation.

WHAT ARE THE MOAI?

The Moai are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island, between 1,250 and 1,500 AD.

All the figures have overly-large heads and are thought to be living faces of deified ancestors.

The 887 statues gaze inland across the island with an average height of 13ft (four metres).

The Moai (pictured) are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island, between 1,250 and 1,500 AD.

The Moai (pictured) are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island, between 1,250 and 1,500 AD.

All but 53 of the Moai were carved from tuff , compressed volcanic ash, and around 100 wear red pukao of scoria.

In 1979 archaeologists said the statues were designed to hold coral eyes.

The figures are believed to be symbol of authority and power.

They may have embodied former chiefs and were repositories of spirits or ‘mana’.

They are positioned so that ancient ancestors watch over the villages, while seven look out to sea to help travellers find land.

But it is a mystery as to how the vast carved stones were transported into position.

Some claim the first Dutch ship to arrive in 1722 brought illness and that, as they died in huge numbers, the islanders lost their faith in the protection of the Moai and knocked them over.

What we do know is that ships passing between 1862 and 1864 kidnapped up to 3,500 Rapa Nui from the already-dwindling population.

These included all the elders who could read glyphs known as Rongorongo and who passed on the tradition.

They were used as slaves in Peruvian mines and just two survived long enough to return to the island, bringing yet more disease with them.

By 1868, there were just 111 Rapa Nui left.

Today’s population of about 4,000 Rapa Nui stems from those 111 people.

As well as their origins, there are also conflicting theories on what caused the downfall of the Rapa Nui civilisation (Easter island pictured)

As well as their origins, there are also conflicting theories on what caused the downfall of the Rapa Nui civilisation (Easter island pictured)

EASTER ISLANDERS WERE NOT WIPED OUT BY WARFARE

In their remote location off the coast of Chile, the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island were believed to have been wiped out by bloody warfare, as they fought over the island’s dwindling resources.

All they left behind were the iconic giant stone heads and an island littered with sharp triangles of volcanic glass, which some archaeologists have long believed were used as weapons.

But research suggests the islanders most likely used the sharp objects, called ‘mata’a’, as tools and not weapons.

The findings could turn the theories of the islanders’ demise on their head, indicating the civilisation didn’t wipe themselves in bloody battle, as previously believed.

The research, carried out by Dr Lipo last year, would tend to support his new findings about the islander’s diet.

The team looked at more than 400 mata’a collected from various sites across Rapa Nui.

Analysis showed the sharp objects differed greatly in shape – unlike the regular shape of arrow or spear heads – meaning they would make poor weapons.

Rather than mortally injured islanders dropping the mata’a at the site of a fight, the team believes the objects are scattered around the island because they were used for farming, as well as in ritual tasks such as tattooing.

Posted on; DailyMail>>

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