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Ancestry Tale Retold by DNA

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New scientific evidence dug up by scientists at the University of Leeds, UK, poses a challenge to the commonly accepted theory that inhabitants of the Polynesian islands originated from Taiwan around 3,000 years ago. Instead, the study shows, these inhabitants can actually be traced back to islands close to New Guinea, where they settled 6,000 to 8,000 years ago.

Leeds researchers dove into a more exhaustive study of mitochondrial DNA, that tracing down the maternal line, than any previous studies. According to Professor Martin Richards, “Most previous studies looked at a small piece of mtDNA, but for this research we studied 157 complete mitochondrial genomes in addition to smaller samples from over 4,750 people from across Southeast Asia and Polynesia.” What they found trailed back to the Bismarck Archipelago of Papua New Guinea. While Polynesians share undeniable linguistic ties to Taiwan, this can be explained by later migrations of Taiwanese to Polynesia.

This study goes to show that our foundation of cultural knowledge is not impenetrable but is subject to constant adjustments as we look on from new angles or apply greater scrutiny. After all, the pictures we form of places from long, long ago, while strung together by facts, are largely scrapped together from imagination. Each new discovery and each new advance in scientific research adds another layer to the ever evolving tale.


Image: "Easter Island" by Gliderking on Flickr courtesy of Creative Commons Licensing.

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