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Genetics vindicates Thor Heyerdahl

  • Written by  Tom Hart
  • Published in Explorers
Easter Island Easter Island Shutterstock
30 Nov
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, best known for the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947

Heyerdahl hoped the expedition would prove that South Americans settled the Polynesian islands in pre-Columbian times. The Kon-Tiki experiment now has additional support from a genetic study in Easter Island that suggests that the Rapanui people who lived on the islands had contact with Native Americans hundreds of years before Dutch commander Jacob Roggeveen arrived at the islands.

Archaeological evidence indicates that 30-100 Polynesians landed on Easter Island around 1200 AD. After settling the island the Polynesians constructed over 900 legendary stone statues, some weighing more than 82 tons. The latest genome-wide analysis of 27 Rapanui revealed that contact between the tribe and Native Americans took place around 1300-1500 AD, around 19-23 generations ago.

Heyerdahl would not have been surprised at the results. ‘We have always been taught that navigation is the result of civilization, but modern archaeology has demonstrated very clearly that this is not so,’ he wrote. This latest research seems to vindicate his conviction that navigation and exploration are an elemental part of human life.

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