Thursday, June 07, 2007

Chicken Bones Suggest Polynesians Found Americas Before Columbus
Popular history, and a familiar rhyme about Christopher Columbus, holds that Europeans made contact with the Americas in 1492, with some arguing that the explorer and his crew were the first outsiders to reach the New World.

But chicken bones recently unearthed on the coast of Chile—dating prior to Columbus’ “discovery” of America and resembling the DNA of a fowl species native to Polynesia—may challenge that notion, researchers say.

“Chickens could not have gotten to South America on their own—they had to be taken by humans,” said anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Polynesians made contact with the west coast of South America as much as a century before any Spanish conquistadors, her findings imply.

Initially, I'm a bit suspicious of the dates, but haven't read the paper.

Update: Well, Terry Hunt just sent me a copy of the paper. I perused it and don't see anything terribly hinky about it (not that I would expect to, mind you). But we'll have to wait a bit for experts in the area to critique it.

Update II: Terry Hunt, one of the co-authors, emails:
Skepticism is a good thing. It makes science work as well as it does. When the research began and the results of DNA and radiocarbon dating emerged, I too was skeptical. Heyerdahl and other kooky writers made us all predisposed to reject claims for American-Polynesian interactions. Among this skepticism, we have always had to account for the sweet potato (a plant of certain American origin) found (and dated to ca. 1000 years ago) in the heart of Polynesia.

Now we have two replicated DNA sequences (separate labs) and a radiocarbon date directly on the chicken bone showing solid evidence for the Polynesian origin and the prehistoric age. I~Rm convinced (as my co-authorship on the paper would indicate), as are many other skeptics from the region.

The data seem pretty solid, but. . . .still curious why they would paddle halfway around the world just to drop off some chickens and pick up a few sweet potatoes. . . .