A study published in Nature has found "conclusive evidence" that Indigenous Americans and Polynesians crossed thousands of miles of open oceans to meet each other hundreds of years before Europeans crossed the oceans. The team who created the study studied the DNA of 800 individuals from 17 Polynesian islands and 15 indigenous American groups on the Pacific coast.
Archeologists have long suspected that the two cultures have intermingled due to the presence of a South American plant in Polynesia, a collection of more than 1,000 islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean. The genomic study has confirmed this theory. The researchers were looking for genetic markers called an admixture, which is a genetic signature that derives from the offspring of different cultures. The scientists found that people from several eastern Polynesian islands, including Rapa Nui -- also known as Easter Island -- have genetic traces in their DNA linked to indigenous South Americans. The genetic signatures showed a strong connection to the Zenu, an indigenous group from Colombia.
"Our analyses suggest strongly that a single contact event occurred in eastern Polynesia, before the settlement of Rapa Nui, between Polynesian individuals and a Native American group most closely related to the indigenous inhabitants of present-day Colombia," the study said.
The researchers are now wondering which of the two groups made the journey. Currently it's believed that Polynesian, who were able to master long ocean voyages by traveling by the stars in double-hulled canoes and were able to travel as far as the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island in the east, and New Zealand in the south, were believed to be the ones to cross the ocean. They may have brought back the sweet potato, which is a South American crop that has been found in Polynesia.