If you have at home a ball of the world – and otherwise I recommend you buy one ASAP –, it to the position that you see almost nothing: neither Eurasia nor America, neither Africa nor Australia, not even the big islands of Madagascar, Papua or New Zealand. Right there, in the middle of nowhere, in that oceanic desert that does not even reach the swarm of Melanésicas and Polynesian islands of the South Pacific, you will find if you are lucky Easter Island, Easter in English and Rapa Nui in the primitive language of the natives. Almost in the exact half between the most eastern islands of French Polynesia and the western coast of Chile, the Easter Island and its mysterious ancient inhabitants, who built the famous moais at the expense of ruining the ecosystem of which they depended, has Fascinated scholars and adventurers for centuries. Read in what way the ancient DNA of five islanders has put upside down the dominant hypothesis about the origin of these enigmatic humans.
This hypothesis, in its original and most famous form, maintains that the Polynesian in general, and the inhabitants of Easter in particular, arrived there from South America, and much of its enduring fascination is due to the Norwegian anthropologist and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl ( 1914-2002), which organized in 1947 the Kon-Tiki expedition, a craft raft like the one that the pre-columbian Indians could have manufactured. With it it traveled the 8,000 kilometers separating the western coasts of South America of the Tuamotu archipelago, in French Polynesia. Heyerdahl produced thus a proof of principle that the Polynesian could have arrived there from the South American coasts. But a test of principle is not a test. The real tests would come much later with the DNA benchmarks.
It has been shown for years that the peoples of the Pacific have come from Southeast Asia and Papua New Guinea. In fact, these populations have a notable percentage of the Denisovano genome, the mysterious contemporary population of the Neanderthals that crossed with our species, Homo sapiens, on Asian lands. There were doubts about whether, despite this, the pre-columbian Indians had reached Rapa Nui and had crossed the original Polynesian. The new data, however, seem to dismiss it. The Kon-Tiki will probably be in a historical curiosity: it only shows what a Norwegian adventurer can do in our day. That's life, and that's how science advances.
The new data, in any case, show the analytical power of genomics compared to clarify historical events. It is more worth the DNA of five bone fragments than the most spectacular expedition that has been able to conceive our adventurous spirit. Sad? No: Truth never is.
Breaking News Headlines