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Lecture | Areal Histories

New Insights from Old DNA into the Settlement of the Pacific

Wednesday 27 January 2021
Language and the human past
Online via Microsoft Teams (register by e-mailing e.van.gijn@hum.leidenuniv.nl)

Mark Stoneking works at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (University of Leipzig, Germany).


The human settlement of the Pacific, involving long open-ocean sea voyaging, has long fascinated anthropologists, archaeologists, linguists, and geneticists. The current view is that Near Oceania (consisting of the islands of Eastern Indonesia, New Guinea, and Australia, extending as far east as the main chain of the Solomon Islands) was initially colonized ~45,000 years ago, which involved relatively short island crossings that were intervisible (i.e., there would be indications of land ahead before losing sight of the land behind). The next major development was the expansion of Austronesian-speaking people out of Taiwan beginning 4,000-5,000 years ago; these were the first people to reach the islands of Remote Oceania (Santa Cruz, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, and Polynesia and Micronesia), beginning ~3,200-3,500 years ago, and involving crossing hundreds to thousands of kilometers of open ocean.  However, within this general framework of two major migrations to the Pacific, there remain many questions, and I shall discuss insights from ancient DNA evidence into two of these:  1) the timing and impact of the Austronesian expansion on eastern Indonesian populations; and 2) the origin of the first colonizers of the Marianas Archipelago, in western Micronesia, and their potential role in the further settlement of the Pacific.

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