Genetics, archaeology and linguistics all show that as a whole, Polynesia was colonised from Asia, probably from around Taiwan. The various lines of evidence suggest people began migrating east around 5500 years ago, reached Polynesia 2500 years later, before finally gaining Easter Island after another 1500 years.
But the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl thought otherwise. In the mid-20th century, he claimed that the famous Easter Island statues were similar to those at Tiahuanaco at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, so people from South America must have travelled west across the Pacific to Polynesia. His famous Kon-Tiki expedition, in which he sailed a balsa wood raft from Peru to the Tuamotu islands of French Polynesia, showed that the trip could have been made. But if it was made, no trace remained.
Now Erik Thorsby of the University of Oslo in Norway has found clear evidence to support elements of Heyerdahl’s hypothesis. In 1971 and 2008 he collected blood samples from Easter Islanders whose ancestors had not interbred with Europeans and other visitors to the island.
Story: Michael Marshall, NewScientist | Photo: Wikimedia Commons