Native Americans and Polynesians were in contact across the Pacific Ocean centuries before Europeans entered Polynesian waters, according to a new study published todaythe journal Nature. Moreover, this initial interaction likely occurred before people settled on Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island)—the Polynesian island closest to the South American coast that was once thought to be a likely point of contact between the two groups.
Pre-Columbian mingling of Polynesians and Native Americans has long been a subject of debate, one made famous in pop culture by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. In 1947, Heyerdahl embarked on his Kon-Tiki expedition, drifting from Peru to Polynesia on a handmade raft in an attempt to prove that people from the Americas could have populated Pacific islands. Heyerdahl’s controversial theories on the origin of ancient Pacific seafarerscast a taboo over the subject, and many archaeologists have dismissed his ideas.
But other pieces of evidence have suggested there was pre-Columbian contact between people in Polynesia and South America. Previous genetic studies of sweet potatoes suggest the plant was domesticated in Peru and then spread across...