Did Native Americans settle Polynesia?

Many people think so, at least to a limited extent. For many decades, the theory rested on the presence of sweet potatoes in Polynesia, a food that has its origins in the Americas. Recently, however, more concrete evidence of the interactions between Native Americans and Polynesians has emerged due to genetic testing. Polynesians in French Polynesia, for instance, carry DNA associated with Native Americans. Studies indicate that they interbred around 1200 A.D. The Native American DNA component seems most similar to that of the indigenous people of Colombia.

Easter Island inhabitants also have some Native American DNA dating to the pre-European colonial era. This is perhaps less surprising due to the island’s proximity to mainland South America. Given this proximity to the mainland, it is worth asking whether Polynesians may have also reached South America. There is less evidence for this migration at the moment. It would seem odd, however, for Polynesians to cross the vast Pacific Ocean, only to end the epic trek close to the South American continent.

If Polynesians did reach South America, this would open up even more questions. It would be worth pondering whether the migration to Polynesia consisted of both Native Americans and Polynesians, with the Polynesians viewing the voyage as opportunity to rediscover islands their ancestors had left.

This amounts to speculation, of course. Hopefully, over time, our understanding of the interactions between these groups will continue to be enhanced.

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