Polynesia’s bloody roots

Polynesians are mostly descended from a population on Taiwan, represented today by Taiwanese aboriginals, and from a Melanesian population similar to New Guinea or the Solomon Islands. They’re about 25% Melanesian autosomally, 6% Melanesian in mtDNA, 65% Melanesian in Y-chromosomes.

Until recently, the dominant model was the slow-boat hypothesis, in which the Taiwanese-derived Lapita culture mixed with Melanesians in New Guinea and the Solomons before sailing out into the deep Pacific. The funny numbers for mtDNA and Y-chromosome were explain by some hand-waving matrifocal cultural bullshit.

Now they’ve looked at ancient DNA from Tonga and Vanuatu. The old samples don’t have any noticeable amount of Melanesian ancestry. So it was like this: the Lapita derived from Taiwan (thru the Philippines), settled Vanuatua and Tonga – then were conquered by some set of Melanesian men, who killed most of the local men and scooped up the women. Probably their sons extended the process, which resulted in a lower percentage of Melanesian ancestry while keeping the Y-chromosomes mostly Melanesian.

After this conquest, the Polynesians expanded further east, and those later settlement (Tahiti, Marquesas, Hawaii, etc) all had that ~25% Melanesian component.

If you want to approach this kind of problem with reasonable priors, read Robert E Howard, not Brian Ferguson.

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57 Responses to Polynesia’s bloody roots

  1. So, best understood by adopting unreasonable priors, priors carrying axes.

  2. Frank says:

    I might as well be the first to point out that the genetics would work out the same if the incoming Melanesian guys just had ANY type of advantage in getting women to have more children with them than local guys.

    They could have had a new crop or a new animal or a new disease. Many options.

    Also, it seems most likely that this second wave of expansion arose when an original Polynesian boat of mostly men landed on an already occupied island.

    The newcomers had children with some locals, learned of new native technology/species, and then their sons and grandsons took off to find new islands.

    No killing is necessary, and none is implied by the genetics.

    • Frank says:

      “Polynesian boat of mostly men landed on an already occupied island.”

      Of course I meant women. But it could also be that the locals ate the men or something…

    • Boris Bartlog says:

      A new disease that only killed native men?
      But in any case, we have the historically documented conquest of the Moriori on the Chatham Islands to give an idea of the process:
      ‘”We took possession… in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped…..” […]
      After the invasion, Moriori were forbidden to marry Moriori, or to have children with each other. All became slaves of the Ngati Tama and Ngati Mutunga invaders. Many Moriori women had children by their Māori masters.”

      • Frank says:

        Well. We actually have very little idea of the actual spread of these people, and it probably wasn’t simple.

        For example, the conquest of the Moriori on the Chatham Islands was by an almost identical genetic group, that were somewhat recently culturally diverged from each other.

        The Moriori were not violent, which is why they were easy to overtake.

        You are actually suggesting that by the 1830s, all of the Pacific Islands should have been run by vicious killers. This just isn’t true at all.

        Plus, the events that led to the main peopling of the Pacific occurred long before this.

        In any case, just being wealthy and being able to support multiple wives who have many children will be the same in the end.

        The main changes probably happened at a very early stage, when a group with amazing nautical technology interbred with a group with a different important technology. Their ‘mixed’ children then populated the more distant Pacific Islands.

        The alternative, that all islands were 100% Taiwan-like before being taken over by the new mixed-type Polynesians, would be very interesting indeed, and require lots of deaths all around.

        But we do not have any evidence for that at this time.

        • gcochran9 says:

          You must be illiterate.
          Human settlement of the Solomon islands is old, goes back 40,000 years. But those Melanesians didn’t go further into the Pacific (which is quite a jump, way out of sight of land).
          Settlement of Oceania is relatively recent.

          The key new result, prominently mentioned in the post, is that ancient DNA from the early-settled parts of Oceania, like Tonga and Vanuatu, show that the first populations were indeed 100% Taiwan-like.

          Melanesian admixture came later and was almost entirely male.

          Which is of course conquest.

          Those populations in western Oceania then settled the rest of Oceania.

          • The Z Blog says:

            Well, those men could have been hut-to-hut salesman. You don’t know!

            • NobodyExpectsThe.... says:

              Ha! you beat me to it. I was going to ask our friend Frank, if there were many milkmen, postmen, and plumbers back in the polynesian day .

          • Frank says:

            “Melanesian admixture came later and was almost entirely male.

            Which is of course conquest.”

            How do you know the ‘conquest’ was mostly male?

            That is a real leap from the actual data.

            If the entire population of secondary invaders (from a single point of admixture) was already mostly Melanesian Y chromosome and Taiwan mtDNA, then you could not ever tell if it wasn’t just 100% population turnover everywhere they landed.

            Not necessary to be male biased.

            • JerryC says:

              How do you know the ‘conquest’ was mostly male?

              That is a real leap from the actual data.

              I’m scratching my head here. What is the alternative explanation for theee result The Taiwanese women dumping their menfolk and kidnapping some Melanesian dudes to have babies with?

              If the entire population of secondary invaders (from a single point of admixture) was already mostly Melanesian Y chromosome and Taiwan mtDNA, then you could not ever tell if it wasn’t just 100% population turnover everywhere they landed.

              If you’re suggesting that this 6% Melanesian mtDNA/65% Melanesian Y-chromosome group showed up in Vanutau and replaced the 100% Taiwanese group completely, that just pushes the Melanesian conquest back in time and puts it someplace else, yes? It doesn’t really change the fact that it had to have happened.

              • gcochran9 says:

                Well, it could also have happened twice. Or N times. Fiji definitely had another, considerably later, wave of Melanesians. No sign of that in the rest of Polynesia, though.

        • Toddy Cat says:

          “You are actually suggesting that by the 1830s, all of the Pacific Islands should have been run by vicious killers.”

          Why on earth would you assume that GC meant that? Just because a people’s ancestors were ruthless killers doesn’t mean that their descendants will necessarily act that way. The Swedes’ ancestors were Vikings, after all, and they are in the process of surrendering their homeland without a fight. People do all sorts of strange things…

  3. Cattle Guard says:

    As Dr. Boli wrote in his Complete History Of The World, “As long as the Maya writing remained undeciphered, anthropologists were free to fantasize that the Maya were a nation of peaceful astronomers; but, now that the key to Maya writing has been discovered, we know that they were simply celebrating their successful slaughters in the usual fashion.”

    • another fred says:

      “free to fantasize”


      There is Occam’s razor and then there is Occam’s butterknife (or Occam’s shit-stick).

    • Jim says:

      The art of Meso-America certainly contains a lot of bloody and gory themes even without considering any written material. Meso-American cultures had many admirable achievements but they were highly militaristic.

      Also there is still a lot of silly talk about the “advanced” mathematics and astronomy of the Maya and other Meso-Americans. The fact that there is no evidence for this “advanced” knowledge only seems to encourage extravagant accounts of it.

    • Harold says:

      You can learn a lot about what cultures value by reading the writings of anthropologists.

  4. Bies says:

    At last somebody has appreciated Robert E. Howard as an anthropological teaching tool.

    In Keeley’s “War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage” there were passages that read as if archaeologists were studying results of Conan’s exploits.

    • deuce says:

      Conan was always a lone outlier, centuries ahead of his kinsmen migrating to the Caspian. The Cimmerian (somewhat) adopted Hyborian culture. He married into and defended a Hyborian kingdom, perpetuating the status quo.

      The more instructive points from Howard are his backstories for tales extending from the Thurian Age on up through the Dark Ages. There you see migrations and population replacements again and again. REH was never in the “pots, not people” camp.

  5. Bruce says:

    “read Robert E Howard, not Brian Ferguson.”

    Love it. Are you planning a post on the picts?

  6. Polymath says:

    It’s disturbing how easily well-educated “experts” can fail to see obvious mathematical consequences of clearly established data. The 6% Melanesian mtDNA being >0 indicates that there were colonists as well as conquerors, but it’s impossible to explain a disparity that large between mtDNA, autosomal DNA, and Y DNA without some extreme culling that acted differentially on both the gender variable and the ethnic variable, and any professor professing otherwise, in a just world, would be a laughingstock.

    • gcochran9 says:

      In the current context, on these problems, ‘well-educated’ means ‘far more likely to come to a wrong conclusion than an average 12-year-old’. It’s not just this question.

      The proto-Polynesians might have moved through the Solomons before going further into the Pacific and could have picked up a smidgen of Melanesian mtDNA in the process.

  7. Matt says:

    Part of the scenario is it seems like the Polynesians may have been at the low end of the population replacement, and Near Oceanian populations are a more Melanesian dominant form, where replacement was greater. The Polynesians also kept their Taiwanese neolithic language.

    I made an analogy between the Polynesians, and if the Basques – picking up some degree of a new group’s ancestry, mostly from the male line, but keeping their language… perhaps if the Basques had settled the Americas, after they picked up their 25% ish ancestry from the Yamnaya.

  8. Polymath says:

    The “new results” from ancient Tongan and Vanuatuan DNA shouldn’t have been necessary at all. What happened to the researchers who disagreed with the consensus interpretation of the 6%/25%/65% disparities?

    Off topic, but something which occurred to me yesterday while considering adopting a calico cat: are there any phenotypically observable traits in humans which have nothing to do with sex, but which are expressed only in females because they require heterozygosity at an X locus?

  9. Economic Sophisms says:

    A strategy of being peaceful and welcoming to outsiders isn’t viable, long term. Someone’s going to come along and get you. From what we see in Europe it’s not even a viable medium term strategy, nature loves a winner.

    • Jim says:

      The people of Sentinel Island aren’t very welcoming to strangers which is probably the main reason they’re still there after many tens of thousands of years.

  10. Frau Katze says:

    Is this a surprise? Read Homer. After fights, winning sides kills loser men, helps themselves to the women, enslaves the children.

    • Just before the catalog of ships Nestor gets the Achaians heated up for battle by promising that within a year or so they’ll have killed all the Trojan men and be sleeping with their wives, and as the later story of Astynax suggests the phrase “Trojan men” encompassed anything with a peepee.

  11. dearieme says:

    I remember once hooting when a historian summarised British history schematically as early farmers slogging away clearing the woodland for agriculture before German immigrants seized the lot. The naughty boy generalised that the Germans preferred the easy job of slaughter and rapine to the hard work of clearing woodland.

    Germany certainly is much more heavily wooded than Britain or France. But I dare say that he wanted me to think of that.

    • Jim says:

      Throughout history when the opportunity for looting and pillaging arose most people have preferred it to eking out a hard if honest living.

      • DataExplorer says:

        Isn’t looting and pillaging far more dangerous than chopping wood and sowing seeds?

        • another fred says:

          Not if you only pick unfair fights, which seems to be the norm if you read Keeley.

          • j says:

            In order to practice agriculture, you need a piece of land and capital (animals, seed, plow, etc.) In subsistence societies there was always a large surplus of young males without prospects. Looting and pillaging was the only option for those boys, not very attractive since most ended dead or sold into slavery. In antiquity, slaves never lasted long.

  12. Sinij says:

    I don’t know why humanity abandoned this rather effective strategy. That is, how did we develop ‘society’ that decreases our fitness so much?

  13. DataExplorer says:

    Interesting, is the Melanesian Y % about the same in all the islands further East of Tonga?

  14. dearieme says:

    What was the advantage that the Melanesians had that spread their Y chromosomes around the pacific?

    • Matt says:

      Obviously higher intelligence than the Out-of-Taiwanese farmers…

      (Well, no, not especially likely, but who knows?)

      Could be malaria or disease resistance? Not on its own, because that wouldn’t explain a sex bias, but disease resistance might be amplifying factor to make for stronger fighters in a conflict. If you’re on the same rough level of warfare tech, and then opponents get sick more often, then it might not go well for them..

  15. BRF says:

    Ironically if Moriori had decided to fight there might be more of them around today, truces, alliances and marriages would have been made, but their perceived lack of vigor only increased the Maori’s contempt, worthy only of slavery.
    Maoris love and respect martial drama .
    Much is now made of Nunuku’s law of non violence on the island and in NZ as an explanation for their lack of resistance and sharp decline and to retcon some backdated respect, and why wouldn’t they?
    There is nascent peace tourism, youngsters going all that way to research the cult of the Albatross feather- people love Albatrosses.

    A policy of non violence worked well between groups of fisher gatherers on a chilly outpost but their failure to come up with a more robust immigration policy ​with Maori ​proved fatal.
    If going down the pacifist road ,like Ghandi at least pick an opponent that has a basic grasp of the concept.
    Both Ngati Tama and Mutunga were mighty grumpy – pushed out of Taranaki by Waikato a decade earlier, and out of Wellington by Ngati Toa. They came in two shipments​,​ children and the sick first and Moriori duly offered Polynesian hospitality.
    As invasions go it is like Duke William landing the weakest portion of his army at Pevensey and asking Harold to look after them until he returned with the rest.

    The last full blood Moriori was an impressive man, enormous and a successful farmer and businessman ​ ​Tommy Solomon​.​

    • dearieme says:

      I’m impressed by there having been propaganda to the effect that the Moriori weren’t Polynesians. When we lived briefly in NZ all you had to do was pick up a decent history, and there the facts were.

      The only problem I had with the history was remembering the name of a particularly bloodthirsty Maori chief: I took to calling him “Adolf the Maori” until I realised that Kiwis bridled at that. (My wife remembers him as Te Rauparaha.)

      • BRF says:

        Yes Te Rauparaha was the Ngati Toa chief who evicted the two tribes from Wellington. Dominoes. Known as the Napoleon of the Sth Pacific he subjugated or banished other tribes but never genocided them.
        We are told that Maori population figures took a hit during the early 19th C but the opposite might be true ,after all 900 from 2 small tribes went to the Chathams.
        Muskets+ potatoes+Maori mercantile curiosity+slavery, the early white settlers could not compete till the 1860’s when the Govt. outlawed slavery. 1860’s was also the time when most of the two tribes returned to Taranaki quite wealthy having leased the conquered lands back to white farmers. At this time there were 119 Moriori down from an estimated 2000-4000 in 1836.

        • dearieme says:

          Thanks, BRF. Did the arrival of Western whalers and sealers in NZ have the usual effect of cutting the numbers of the Maoris by disease?

  16. indravaruna says:

    “then were conquered by some set of Melanesian men, who killed most of the local men and scooped up the women. Probably their sons extended the process, which resulted in a lower percentage of Melanesian ancestry while keeping the Y-chromosomes mostly Melanesian.”

    In Madagascar was proven that most Malagasy people are descendants of Bantu black males and Austronesian Asian women, I don’t think it’s warfare, but that darker skinned males are more sexually dominant over Asians or even Whites.

    • Matt says:

      That is the distribution with the Malagasy. OTOH explain East Africa, North Africa, African Americans and India under that paradigm (not many male African or Ancestral South Asian lineages).

      Some of South East Asia (mainland and insular) where the old school phys anth folk believed “Australoids” were replaced by “Mongoloids” with absorption may also prove to a be a wrinkle with an idea like this, once it’s properly studied in detail. (IRC y-dna in Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. tends to be pretty much East Asian O, while the mtdna seems more diverse and similar to local “Negrito” and “Australoid” sorts).

  17. Urisahatu says:

    People; especially Archaeologists; should not ignore the legends of the Taiwanese aboriginals.
    Many aboriginal tribes of Taiwan have a memory and legends about little black people who might well have been negrito or Australoid (Papuan?) in origin.
    These so-called negritos had many different names depending the language or dialect of the aboriginal Taiwanese.

    List aboriginal Taiwanese tribes and the words / names for little black people:

    Taiwan Tribe – Little Black People

    Atayal – Misinsigot
    Seediq – Susungut
    Rukai – Ngutol
    Saisiyat – Ta’ay
    Bunun – Laikulun, Satoso, Takelili, Tsalutso
    Paiwan – Sugudul
    Hla’alua – Kavurua
    Kanakanavu – Kanaira

    The Saisiyat people state in their legends about the Ta’ay (little black people / negrito?) that the Ta’ay would sexually harass Saisiyat women.

    The Paiwan people say that marriages were “once” common among their ancestors and the little black people “Sugudul” as Paiwanese call them.

    Could it be that the mixing occured on Taiwan prior to sailing off into the Pacific via Island Southeast Asia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu?

    • gcochran9 says:

      DNA from some early Polynesians doesn’t show any Melanesian admixture – so no.

      • Urisahatu says:

        Thank you for your reply.

        The Peopling of the Pacific Islands was and still is to some extend a mystery. There are many island archipelagos with populations which show either Australo-Melanesian and / or east asian (Taiwanese + southeast asian?) origins and eventually mixed together obscuring the founder population (founder effect).

        quote: “DNA from some early Polynesians doesn’t show any Melanesian admixture – so no.”

        Doesn’t that leave a possibility open that “some early Polynesians” in fact do show Melanesian admixture?
        Although maybe for this particular find on one location of the many thousands of islands the founder people are Taiwanese without Melanesian admixture; there are many more islands which will show a very different result.

        Keep in mind Taiwanese Aboriginals themself have memories and legends of “little black people” living near and / or amongst them.
        Yes; there are many Taiwanese Aboriginal people (tribes); yet atleast one tribe; the Paiwan tribe say that marriages were once commen among their ancestors with the little black people.
        The Saisiyat people say the little black people sexually harrased their women.
        Researchers should find out which one(s) of the Tawainese Aboriginal people (early or Proto-Polynesians?) sailed out to populate the pacific islands.
        In this case (theoretically); some have no Melanesian admixture; some might very well have Melanesian admixture.

        In my opinion the words Melanesians, Micronesians and Polynesians are subjected to Geopolitics. Example: West Papua, Timor etc. have an Australo-Melanesian (founder-)population yet they are geopolitically called Southeast Asians.
        Than of course you have words like Melanesia, Oceania etc. Words which anyone could use for their own agenda.

        Having said that; It has been theorized that the Australo-Melanesians do not have any highly advanged seagoing canoe (boat) technology.
        Do you have any idea or theory how the Australo-Melanesian and Negrito DNA ended up on the American continent and South America in particular?
        In last years (2015) research article it is stated that there even was Australo-Melanesian DNA found in some living Native Americans including of the Aleutian Islands.
        Link: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/07/mysterious-link-emerges-between-native-americans-and-people-half-globe-away

        The article is also talking about a timeline around 23.000 yrs – 13:000 yrs; which is of course way before early- or proto-Polynesian set out into the Pacific; when the American continent was populated in a single migration via the Beringia.
        For Australo-Melanesians to end up in the Aleutian islands it would be much easier to go north via the (island chains of) Philippines, Taiwan and Japan to reach the Aleutian islands.
        The Philippines have negritos for a fact; Taiwan have multiple Aboriginal peoples / tribes with a memory and legends about little black people (negrito, Australo-Melanesians?) and Japan have the Ainu (Aino) people who some of them show a strong affinity with Australo-Melanesians. Link: http://wakeup-world.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Aino-Elder-Original-features-773×1024.jpg
        The picture of the Ainu (Aino) elder is originally from the following book:
        “Der Werdegang der Menschheit und die Entstehung der Kultur – von Hermann Klaatsch, Adolf Heilborn, 1920, Page 331”.

        In a recent research article (2016) it is said that the Australian Aboriginals are the worlds oldest Civilization. Link: http://www.history.com/news/dna-study-finds-aboriginal-australians-worlds-oldest-civilization
        Could it be that the Pacific islands and the American continent were originally populated by Australoids (Australian Aboriginals and proto-Melanesians?) only to be repopulated by Taiwanese (and other Asians?) after a devastating natural disaster during the end of the Ice-age; only leaving very small pockets of Australo-Melanesian population in the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and the Americas?
        If so; The DNA results of the current founding population of many Pacific islands will show up as Taiwanese without Melanesian admixture because their remains (skeletons etc.) are above sea level; the “possible” original founding population are Australoids (oldest civilization in the world) whose remains would be under sea level.

        • gcochran9 says:

          There are no old human remains in the Pacific islands of Polynesia. Not one. And there are other clear indications that nobody got there before the Polynesians. There were flightless birds (like rails) – but after people showed up and left carbon-dateable remains, almost all those birds went extinct. Even crappy human hunters, say ones without atlatls, could catch and eat flightless birds.

          There was no devastating natural disaster in the Americas at the end of the Ice Age.

          • Urisahatu says:

            Thank you for your reply.

            In my opinion; it is not conclusive that there are no old human remains in the Pacific islands of Polynesia prior to the Polynesians because researchers; archaeologists should also look for human remains below sea level and not only above sea level.

            An example would be the Caves of Nanumanga an underwatercave off the nothern shore of Nanumanga, Tuvalu (western Polynesia). Two scuba divers investigated a local legend of “a large house under the sea” and found an underwater cave more than 40 meters down which showed blackend coral fragments on the floor, roof and walls which suggests the use of fire by human occupants.
            It is said that the last time people could possibly have occupied the cave was during a time of low sea level more than 8000 years ago.
            That of course is way before proto-Polynesians / Polynesians ever sailed out into the Pacific ocean and populated the islands of Polynesia.
            Link: http://www.tuvaluislands.com/history-caves.htm

            Having said that; If there was nobody on the Pacific islands of Polynesia before the Polynesians it means that the Australo-Melanesians / Negritos did took the northern route via Philippines (Aeta, Batak, Mamanwa), Taiwan (Ta’ay, Sugudul; etc.), Japan (Ainu; Southeast Asian mtDNA+ Andaman Y-haplogroup D DNA) through or perhaps bypassing the Beringia; to reach the Aleutian islands and further into the American continent leaving their DNA in Native American people.

            There are little options left on which migration route(s) the Australo-Melanesians / Negritos took to reach the American continent before the proto-Polynesians / Polynesians were on the scene with their advanged oceangoing canoe / boat technology.

            It seems like the Australo-Melanesian / Negrito people were at some point in time present in mainland East Asia (MEA) after migrating from Papua New Guinea and Australia. On MEA they encountered other people (Neandertal, Denisovan?) and were pushed out MEA; from there on; most migrated back via Taiwan, Philippines towards Papua New Guinea, Australia (Denisovan DNA admixture?) and some migrated via Taiwan, Japan into the American continent.

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