10 Jan 2017

Did early Polynesians sail to the Americas?

From Our Changing World, 7:06 pm on 10 January 2017

Stars guided ancient Polynesians on their journeys across the vast Pacific Ocean, but once they reached the farthest corners of Polynesia, they stopped … right?

Maybe not.

A mounting body of evidence suggests that Polynesian voyagers sailed to the distant shores of South America – but the idea remains controversial.

Excavating a grave

Lisa Matisoo-Smith was part of a team who excavated a skeleton wearing a toki kura, on Isla Mocha, 30km off the coast of Chile. Photo: Lisa Matisoo-Smith / University of Otago

An investigation into this mystery takes us from kumara, the classic kiwi staple, along an epic open ocean raft voyage, to the discovery of Polynesian chickens far from home, and the excavation of a mysterious skeleton in Chile.

Science communication student Ellen Rykers speaks to Lisa Matisoo-Smith, Professor of Biological Anthropology in the Department of Anatomy at the University of Otago, who specialises in ancient DNA analysis.

Voyaging canoes

Modern voyaging Polynesian vaka. Photo: CC BY 2.0 Hilltop Al

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