Scientists have revealed intriguing new insights into the earliest ancestors of Maori – confirming that the first people to settle in the Pacific were from Asian farming groups.
The revelations, published today in Nature and co-authored by Massey University computational biologist Professor Murray Cox – may hold the key to future health improvements for Maori and Pasifika populations.
The research is the first to sequence ancient DNA from 3000-year-old skeletons to identify who were the first people to reach the Pacific Islands.
By examining skeletal remains from the first people to settle in Vanuatu and Tonga the research was able to put a 40-year-debate to rest – showing the ancient settlers had little to no Papuan ancestry- contrary to what had previously been suggested.
This proved that the first people to reach remote Oceania were from Asian farming groups – with later movements bringing Papuan genes into the region.
Before this work no ancient genomic DNA had ever been obtained from any tropical region – including the Pacific.
This resulted in two opposing scenarios to explain why Maori and Pasifika have Papuan and Asian ancestry – the other stating that farming groups moving out of Asia mixed with Papuans near New Guinea and created a mixed group with both ancestries and the mixed group settling in the Pacific.
‘This paper gives us the first basic picture of the genomic make-up of Pacific Islanders’.