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Keywords:

  • Eastern Polynesia;
  • mtDNA;
  • ancient DNA;
  • settlement;
  • Melanesia

Abstract

Molecular anthropology has been widely used to infer the origin and processes of the colonization of Polynesia. However, there are still a lack of representative geographical studies of Eastern Polynesia and unchallenged genetic data about ancient Polynesian people. The absence of both of these elements prevents an accurate description of the demographic processes of internal dispersion within the Polynesian triangle. This study provides a twofold analysis of ancient and modern mtDNA in the eastern part of French Polynesia: the Gambier Islands. The paleogenetic analyses conducted on burials of the Temoe Atoll (14th−17th centuries) represent the first fully authenticated ancient human sequences from Polynesia. The identification of the “Melanesian” Q1 mtDNA lineage in ancient human remains substantiates the Near Oceanic contribution to the early gene pool of this region. Modern samples originate from Mangareva Island. Genealogical investigations enable us to reliably identify the conservation of the Melanesian component in Easternmost Polynesia, despite recent European colonization. Finally, the identification of rare mutations in sequences belonging to haplogroup B4a1a1a provides new perspectives to the debate on the internal peopling of the Polynesian region. Altogether, the results laid out in our study put the emphasis on the necessity of controlled sampling when discussing the internal settlement of Polynesia. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.