Pacific island's secret unlocked

THE origins of Easter Island's early inhabitants who settled one of the most isolated places on earth and built its massive Moai stone figures has been a mystery for generations.

  • Staff Reporter
  • 20 October 2017
  • 04:56
  • News
Pacific island's secret unlocked Moai stone figures

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Several media outlets have reported that new research suggests the people, known as Rapa Nui, who lived on the tiny speck in the Pacific Ocean - 3700km west of South America and 1770km from the nearest island - were more isolated than previously thought.
 
Just what happened between the island's settlement by Polynesians before 1200 AD and its discovery by Dutch explorers in 1722 has long intrigued anthropologists.
 
And one of the big mysteries has been whether they had genetic links with indigenous South Americans thousands of kilometres to the east, or were their origins purely from westward Pacific islands.
 
A study published this month in the journal Current Biology found only traces of Polynesian DNA in human remains of Easter islanders going back before European contact, reports The New York Times.
 
Despite the small sample size, the results suggest early inhabitants lived a lonelier life than previously thought.
 
"They are 100% completely Polynesian ancestry as far as we can see," said Pontus Skoglund, a co-author of the paper.
 
"We find that these people came from the west and it tells us about this extraordinary journey they took to get there through the waves of the Pacific."
 
A brief glance at the map of the Pacific shows the vast distances the earliest settlers had to overcome in primitive boats to reach Easter Island which at only 160 square kilometres is a speck in the ocean.
 
An Australian expert told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation how the early claim of native American heritage among the Rapa Nui had been long debatable.
 
He said potatoes found on Easter Island had been held up as evidence of South American mainland links.
 
"The sweet potato has been held up as the golden standard of contact, but there was paper recently showing just how far they can float," Prof Jago Cooper said.
 

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