Mystery Islands of Remote East Polynesia

Bibliography of Prehistoric Polynesian Settlement on the Pitcairn Islands Group, the Galapagos Islands, and other Far Eastern Pacific Islands
Island Bibliographies no. 3


blue pin Introduction
blue pin Prehistory of the Pitcairn Island Group
blue pin Bibliography
blue pin Prehistory of the Galapagos and other Far Eastern Pacific Islands
blue pin Bibliography





The spread of the Polynesians and Micronesians into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean is one of the great dramas of human history. Beginning over 3,000 years ago, people began to spill out of the island chains of Indonesia, Melanesia and the Philippines into the scattered atolls and volcanic islands of the Pacific Ocean. By about 1000AD, most of the habitable islands of the world’s greatest ocean supported thriving populations. The speed and daring of this expansion was incredible. Humans had touched almost every speck in the Pacific, sailing on double-hulled canoes across trackless expanses in search of new homes. In every sense, this was one of the most extraordinary migrations in human history.


The last places to be reached were in the southwest Pacific, and in the far eastern Pacific. Settlers reached all the way to Easter Island, 2300 miles from the coast of South America, by about 700AD. In the southwest Pacific, voyaging canoes reached New Zealand around 1250AD, and the remote, cool and windy archipelago of the Chatham Islands around 1300AD (New Zealand was in fact the last major land mass on the planet to be settled by humans – Iceland was settled about 800AD, and Madagascar some hundreds of years earlier.) After New Zealand, the Pacific was full, and long-range voyaging began to decline quite rapidly.

A few habitable Pacific islands were never found until Europeans entered the ocean – they rank as amongst the last places on earth discovered by humans. These include the Galapagos Islands, Cocos Island, the Revillagigedos Archipelago, and the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of South America; Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand; and Midway Island, northwest of Hawaii. They are some of the few places on the planet which have never had an “indigenous” population.


Diffusion of human settlement across time and space in the Pacific

However, there are also some islands in the Pacific that were once settled by prehistoric people, then abandoned. These have been called the “mystery islands” by anthropologists, because there are often very few clues about what happened to their people. Some of the “mystery islands” include Necker and Nihoa Islands, northwest of Hawaii; Walpole, near New Caledonia; Pitcairn and Henderson in the eastern Pacific; Palmerston and Suwarrow in the Cook Islands; the Bonin Islands, 600 miles south of Japan; and several of the Phoenix and Line Islands in the central Pacific. Additionally, there are some famous “mystery islands” off the Australian coast, notably Kangaroo Island near Adelaide, and the islands of Bass Strait between Tasmania and Victoria. For further information on the Australian off-shore islands, see Offshore Islands & Maritime Explorations in Australian Prehistory by Sandra Bowdler.

Location of the Pacific’s Mystery Islands (from Irwin)

Some of the mystery islands were quite habitable, and could have sustained some level of prehistoric population; but when discovered by Europeans, they were unpopulated. We do not definitively know why this was so. Perhaps it was climate or sea level change, environmental overload, collapse of the food supply, internal conflict, the psychological trauma of severe isolation, or most likely an unfortunate combination of all these factors. Something drove these people to extinction, or to take their chances once again on the vast Pacific. This is an enduring and fascinating puzzle for which there are no ready answers.

However, as we understand more about prehistoric pressures on island ecosystems, we are getting a clearer perspective. Polynesian populations tended to peak within several generations of island settlement, then declined as their environments deteriorated. In some island ecosystems (such as Easter Island) there is evidence of disastrous ecological collapse. Gardening and fishing were uncertain strategies. Protein supply was always a problem on smaller islands, and most larger land animals were quickly eaten to extinction. Trade networks broke down, and interisland travel declined. Without trade and emigration, populations became stranded, resources were exhausted, warfare and violence erupted, and the population fell catastophically. There is no clear evidence that this happened on the mystery islands, but it is clear that to sustain a population on a small island in profound isolation is extremely difficult.

This bibliography gathers together the available research on the easternmost of these mystery island groups – the Pitcairn Group, comprising Pitcairn, Oeno, and Henderson Island. These islands are amongst the most remote on earth, but both were definitely settled at some point by prehistoric Polynesian seafarers. However, when rediscovered by Europeans in the late 18th century, they were utterly abandoned. The references below are primarily the work of archaeologists, who have teased out the fragmentary and tantalizing evidence for these vanished visitors.

In addition, there are citations on archaeological investigations on the Galapagos Islands and other islands even further to the east towards South America. There is (as yet) very little evidence that either Polynesians or South Americans made the long voyage to the Galapagos.

blue pin Prehistory of the Pitcairn Island Group

The Pitcairn Polynesians probably arrived between 900 and 1400, and were gone by 1700. The tale of their demise has been described vividly by Jared Diamond in his work Collapse on the collapse of human societies through environmental degradation. Many artifacts were left behind on the Pitcairn Islands by the Polynesian residents, as well as some human remains. When the Bounty mutineers settled Pitcairn Island, they demolished many structures and maraes, and probably moved or discarded many artifacts. The early Polynesians on these islands also left behind abandoned gardens and food plants such as the banana. A more damaging legacy of prehistoric settlement was a large population of Pacific rats, which are currently being eradicated from Henderson Island by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.


blue pin Bibliography

blue pinPitcairn Islands.Wikipedia. Web.

“The earliest known settlers of the Pitcairn Islands were Polynesians who appear to have lived on Pitcairn and Henderson, as well as nearby Mangareva Island 400 kilometres (250 mi) to the northwest, for several centuries. They traded goods and formed social ties between the three islands despite the long canoe voyages between them, helping the small populations on each island survive despite having very limited resources. Eventually important natural resources were used up, inter-island trade broke down and a period of civil war began on Mangareva, causing the small human populations on Henderson and Pitcairn to be cut off and eventually go extinct. Although archaeologists believe that Polynesians were living on Pitcairn as late as the 15th century, the islands were uninhabited when they were discovered by Europeans.”

blue pinHenderson Island.Wikipedia. Web.

“Archaeological evidence suggests that a small permanent Polynesian settlement existed on Henderson at some time between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries. The reasons for the group’s disappearance remain unknown, but may relate to the similar disappearance of the Polynesians on Pitcairn Island, on whom the Hendersonians would have depended for many of the basics of life, especially stone for making tools. The Pitcairn Polynesians may in turn have disappeared because of the decline of nearby Mangareva; thus, Henderson was at the end of a chain of small, dependent colonies of Mangareva.

blue pin Anderson, Atholl J.Taking to the Boats: The Prehistory of Indo-Pacific Colonization.” Public Lecture for the National Institute of Asia and the Pacific. 18 Dec. 2002. Web.

blue pin Benton, T. G., and T. Spencer. “Man’s Impact on the Pitcairn Islands.” The Pitcairn Islands: Biogeography, Ecology and Prehistory. London: Academic Press, 1995. 375-376. Print.


Petroglyphs on Pitcairn

blue pin Brown, John A. “Stone Implements from Pitcairn Island.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland 30 (1900): 83-88. Print.

blue pin Collerson, K.D., and M. I . Weisler. “Stone Adze Compositions and the Extent of Ancient Polynesian Voyaging and Trade.” Science 317.5846 (2007): 1907-1911. Print.

blue pin Diamond, Jared. “Paradises Lost.” Discover Nov. 1997: 68+. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web.

“We don’t know yet if this grim sequence of events represents our own future, but we do know that the scenario has already played itself out on three tropical Pacific islands. One of them, Pitcairn, is famous as the island to which the mutineers from HMS Bounty fled in 1790. Unpeopled and very remote, Pitcairn offered a hiding place for Fletcher Christian and his mates from the vengeful British Navy. But although Pitcairn was indeed uninhabited when they landed, the mutineers found evidence that it wasn’t always so: temple platforms, petroglyphs, and stone tools gave mute testimony to Pitcairn’s former Polynesian settlers. Farther east, an even more remote island named Henderson remains uninhabited to this day, yet it too bears abundant marks of a former Polynesian population. What happened to those original Pitcairn Islanders and to their vanished cousins on Henderson?

The romance and mystery of the Bounty, retold in so many books and films, are matched by the earlier tales of these two populations and their mysterious ends. Basic information about them has only recently emerged, thanks to excavations by archeologist Marshall Weisler, who spent eight months on these lonely outposts as part of his graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley during the early 1990s. He found that the fates of the first Pitcairners and the Henderson Islanders were linked to a slowly unfolding environmental catastrophe hundreds of miles away, on their more populous island trading partner Mangareva, where the inhabitants survived at the cost of a drastically lowered standard of living. While much mystery remains, enough is already known to warn us that these three seemingly exotic islands may carry a vivid and important lesson for our times. Just as the collapse of the Polynesian society on Easter Island warns us that environmental mismanagement can destroy those guilty of it, the fates of the people who lived on Pitcairn and Henderson warn us that societies can also be annihilated by the environmental mistakes of others.

The disappearance of Pitcairn’s and Henderson’s populations must have resulted somehow from the severing of the Mangarevan umbilical cord. Life on Henderson, always difficult, surely became far more so with the loss of all imported volcanic stone. Did everyone die simultaneously in a mass calamity, or did the populations gradually dwindle down to a single survivor living alone with memories for many years? That actually happened to the Indian population of San Nicolas Island off Los Angeles, reduced finally to one woman who survived in complete isolation for 18 years. Did the last Henderson Islanders spend time on the beaches, generation after generation, staring out to sea in the hopes of sighting the canoes that had stopped coming, until even the memory of what a canoe looked like grew dim? ”

blue pin Emory, Kenneth P. “Stone Implements of Pitcairn Island.” Journal of the Polynesian Society 37.2 (June 1928): 125-135. Print.


Pitcairn Island tools

blue pin Erskine, Nigel. “The Historical Archaeology of Settlement at Pitcairn Island, 1790-1856.” Thesis (Ph.D.) James Cook University (Townsville), 2004. Print.

blue pin Gathercole, P. W. Preliminary Report on Archaeological Fieldwork on Pitcairn Island: January-March, 1964. Dunedin: Department of Anthropology, University of Otago, 1964. Print.

blue pin Horrocks, Mark and Marshall I. Weisler. “Analysis of Plant Microfossils in Archaeological Deposits from Two Remote Archipelagos: The Marshall Islands, Eastern Micronesia, and the Pitcairn Group, Southeast Polynesia.” Pacific Science 60.2 (2006): 261-280. Print.

“Pollen and starch residue analyses were conducted on 24 sediment samples from archaeological sites on Maloelap and Ebon Atolls in the Marshall Islands, eastern Micronesia, and Henderson and Pitcairn Islands in the Pitcairn Group, Southeast Polynesia. The sampled islands, two of which are “mystery islands” (Henderson and Pitcairn), previously occupied and abandoned before European contact, comprise three types of Pacific islands: low coral atolls, raised atolls, and volcanic islands. Pollen, starch grains, calcium oxylate crystals, and xylem cells of introduced non-Colocasia Araceae (aroids) were identified in the Marshalls and Henderson (ca. 1,900 yr B.P. and 1,200 yr B.P. at the earliest, respectively). The data provide direct evidence of prehistoric horticulture in those islands and initial fossil pollen sequences from Pitcairn Island. Combined with previous studies, the data also indicate a horticultural system on Henderson comprising both field and tree crops, with seven different cultigens, including at least two species of the Araceae. Starch grains and xylem cells of Ipomoea sp., possibly introduced I. batatas, were identified in Pitcairn Island deposits dated to the last few centuries before European contact in 1790.”

blue pin Horrocks, Mark and Marshall I. Weisler. “A Short Note on Starch and Xylem of Colocasia Esculenta (Taro) in Archaeological Deposits from Pitcairn Island, Southeast Polynesia.” Journal Of Archaeological Science 33.9 (2006): 1189-1193. Web.

blue pin Irwin, Geoffrey. “The ‘Mystery’ Islands.” The Prehistoric Exploration and Colonisation of the Pacific. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 176-180. Print.

blue pin Kirsh, Patrick V. “Polynesia’s Mystery Islands.” Archaeology 3 (1988): 26. Web.

blue pin Lavachery, Henri. Contribution a l’étude de l’archéologie de l’île de Pitcairn. Bruxelles: Société des Américanistes de Belgique, 1936. Print.

blue pin Murray, Spence. The Five Neighbors of Pitcairn Island: Oeno, Henderson, Temoe, Ducie, Mangareva with an Overview of Pitcairn Geology. La Cañada, CA: Bounty Sagas, 1993. Print.

blue pin Preece, R. C. “Impact of Early Polynesian Occupation on the Land Snail Fauna of Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group (South Pacific).” Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences 353.1367 (1998): 347. Print.

blue pin Rehder, Harald A., and John E. Randall. “Ducie Atoll: Its Story, Phisiography and Biota.” Atoll Research Bulletin 83 (1975): 1-57. Print, Web.

blue pin Schubel, Susan E., and David W. Steadman. “More Bird Bones from Polynesian Archaeological Sites on Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group, South Pacific.” Atoll Research Bulletin 325 (1989). Print, Web.

blue pin Steadman, David W., and Storrs L. Olson. “Bird Remains from an Archaeological Site on Henderson Island, South Pacific: Man-caused Extinctions on an ‘Uninhabited’ Island.” PNAS 82.18 (1985): 6191-6195. Print.

“Long thought never to have been inhabited and to be in a pristine ecological state, Henderson Island (southeast Pacific) is now known to have been colonized and then abandoned by Polynesians. Bones from an archaeological site on the island associated with 14C dates of 800 and 500 years B.P. include specimens of 12 species of birds, of which 3, a storm-petrel and two pigeons (Nesofregetta fuliginosa, Ducula cf. aurorae or D. pacifica, and Ducula cf. galeata), no longer occur on Henderson, and two others (Puffinus nativitatis and Sula sula) still visit but are not known to breed. The vanished species were presumably exterminated by Polynesians and the biota of Henderson Island can thus no longer be regarded as being in an unaltered state. The prehistoric abandonment of various small, unarable islands by Polynesians may have been due to the depletion of seabirds and pigeons, the only readily available food source. The species of pigeons identified from Henderson are known historically only from distant archipelagos and have never before been found sympatrically. Distributional patterns resulting from man-caused extinctions may give rise to erroneous interpretations of the relationships and evolutionary history of insular organisms. Certain endangered species, such as Ducula galeata, might effectively be preserved by reintroduction to abandoned islands that they occupied before human intervention.”

blue pin Stefan, Vincent H. “Henderson Island Crania and Their Implication for Southeastern Polynesian Prehistory.” Journal of the Polynesian Society (2002). Print.

blue pin Weisler, Marshall I. “Henderson Island Prehistory: Colonization and Extinction on a Remote Polynesian Island.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 56 (1995): 377-404. Print. Rpt. in The Pitcairn Islands: Biogeography, Ecology and Prehistory. Ed. Tim Benton and Tom Spencer. London: Academic Press, 1995. 377-404. Print.

“Situated at the extreme margin of the Indo-West Pacific biotic province, the four islands of the isolated Pitcairn Group hold interest for biogeographers and archaeologists alike. Human settlement may have been as early as the 8th century AD for the uplifted limestone island of Henderson, the most pristine island of its kind. An archaeological survey of the Pitcairn Islands is provided, while Henderson is examined in detail. Recent extensive excavations provide a record of change during 600 years of human occupation. Adaptation to the ecologically-marginal conditions is documented by artefacts, more than 150000 vertebrate bones, molluscs and subfossil plant remains recovered from stratigraphic contexts. The effects of prehistoric human occupation on the pristine environment are revealed by Polynesian plant and animal introductions, bird extinctions and range reductions, possible over-predation of marine molluscs, exploitation of sea turtles, and large-scale burning for swidden agriculture. The origin of human colonists is documented by analysing imported artefacts by geochemical characterization (x-ray fluorescence analysis). The human abandonment of Henderson, by the seventeenth century, is viewed in the context of prehistoric regional dynamics.”

blue pin Weisler, Marshall I. “Prehistoric Long-distance Interaction at the Margins of Oceania.” Prehistoric Long-distance Interaction in Oceania: An Interdisciplnary Approach. Ed. Marshall I. Weisler. Auckland: N. Z. Archaeological Assoc., 1997. 149-172. Print.

blue pin Weisler, Marshall I. “The Settlement of Marginal Polynesia: New Evidence from Henderson Island.” Journal of Field Archaeology 21.1 (Spr. 1994): 83-102. Print.

blue pin Wragg, Graham. “The Fossil Birds of Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group: Natural Turnover and Human Impact, a Synopsis.” Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 56 (1995): 1-2. Print.

blue pin Wragg, Graham, and T. H. Worthy. “A New Species of Extinct Imperial Pigeon ( Ducula : Columbidae) from Henderson Island, Pitcairn Group.” Historical Biology 18.2 (2006): 127-140. Web.

blue pin Prehistory of the Polynesian Presence in the Galapagos Group and other Far Eastern Pacific Islands

No direct evidence has been found of prehistoric settlement on the Galapagos Islands, which is not surprising given their extraordinary isolation. In the 1950s, Thor Heyerdahl put forward the theory that South American Indians had visited the Galapagos, but this has now been largely discredited. Nevertheless, it is possible that either South Americans or Polynesians made it to the islands at some point. The most tantalizing evidence is the presence of the sweet potato in Polynesia. This food crop is a South American plant, and must somehow have been transported from South America to Polynesia. Additionally, there is some evidence of a Polynesian presence on Mocha Island off the Chilean coast, and some theories have postulated a Polynesian influence on the Chumash people of Southern California, mainly in language and canoe-building techniques. The jury is still out on how and when Polynesians travelled further east into the Pacific Ocean.
blue pin Claims of Polynesian Trans-Oceanic Contact. Wikipedia. Web.

Claims involving sweet potato

The sweet potato, which is native to the Americas, was widespread in Polynesia when Europeans first reached the Pacific. Sweet potato has been radiocarbon-dated in the Cook Islands to 1000 AD, and current thinking is that it was brought to central Polynesia c. 700 AD and spread across Polynesia from there. It has been suggested that it was brought by Polynesians who had traveled to South America and back, or that South Americans brought it to the Pacific. It is unlikely that the plant could successfully float across the ocean by natural means. Phylogenetic analysis supports the hypothesis of at least two separate introductions of sweet potatoes from South America into Polynesia, including one before and one after European contact.

Claims based on linguistics


Sweet potatoes for sale, Thames, New Zealand. The name “kumara” has entered New Zealand English from Māori, and is in wide use.

Dutch linguists and specialists in Amerindian languages Willem Adelaar and Pieter Muysken have suggested that two lexical items may be shared by Polynesian languages and language of South America. One is the name of the sweet potato, which was domesticated in the New World. Proto-Polynesian *kumala (compare Easter Island kumara, Hawaiian ʻuala, Māori kumāra; apparent cognates outside Eastern Polynesian may be borrowed from Eastern Polynesian languages, calling Proto-Polynesian status and age into question) may be connected with Quechua and Aymara k’umar ~ k’umara. A possible second is the word for ‘stone axe’, Easter Island toki, Mapuche toki, and further afield, Yurumangui totoki ‘axe’. According to Adelaar and Muysken the similarity in the word for sweet potato, “constitutes near proof of incidental contact between inhabitants of the Andean region and the South Pacific”, though according to Adelaar and Muysken the word for axe is not as convincing. The authors argue that the presence of the word for sweet potato suggests sporadic contact between Polynesia and South America, but no migrations. According to POLLEX-Online, Proto-Polynesian *toki “adze, axe” has an accepted Proto-Austronesian etymology, which implies that the similarities are either accidental, or at most, in some cases, the word was borrowed from Polynesian into South American languages.

Genetic claims

Geneticist Erik Thorsby and colleagues have published two studies in Tissue Antigens that evidence an Amerindian genetic contribution to the Easter Island population, determining that it was probably introduced before European discovery of the island.

Geneticist Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas of The Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen published a study in Current Biology that found evidence of interbreeding between the populations of Easter Island and South America that occurred between the years 1300 and 1500.

Proposed sites of contact

See also: Mapuche history


Mocha Island off the coast of Arauco Peninsula, Chile.

In recent years evidence has emerged suggesting a possibility of pre-Columbian contact between the Mapuche people (Araucanians) of south-central Chile and Polynesians. Chicken bones found at the site El Arenal in the Arauco Peninsula, an area inhabited by Mapuche, support a pre-Columbian introduction of chicken to South America. The bones found in Chile were radiocarbon-dated to between 1304 and 1424, before the arrival of the Spanish. Chicken DNA sequences taken were matched to those of chickens in American Samoa and Tonga, and dissimilar to European chicken. However, a later report in the same journal looking at the same mtDNA concluded that the Chilean chicken specimen clusters with the same European/Indian subcontinental/Southeast Asian sequences, providing no support for a Polynesian introduction of chickens to South America.

In December 2007, several human skulls were found in a museum in Concepción, Chile. These skulls originated from Mocha Island, an island just off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, nowadays inhabited by Mapuche. Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith of the University of Otago and José Miguel Ramírez Aliaga of the University of Valparaíso claim the skulls have “Polynesian features”, such as a pentagonal shape when viewed from behind, and they hope to begin an excavation search for Polynesian remains on the island.

blue pin Bibliography

blue pin Anderson, Atholl J., et al. “An Archaeological Exploration of Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile.” Fifty Years in the Field: Essays in Honour and Celebration of Richard Shutler Jr’s Archaeological Career. Ed. Stuart Bedford, Christophe Sand, David Burley, and Richard Shutler. Auckland: New Zealand Archaeological Association, 2002. 239-249. Print.

blue pin Anderson, Atholl. “Polynesian Seafaring and American Horizons: A Response to Jones and Klar.” American Antiquity 71.4 (Oct. 2006): 759-763. Print.

“The hypothesis presented by Jones and Klar (2005) that elements of prehistoric Chumash technology and language arrived from East Polynesia is considered. Trans-oceanic diffusion in general should not be rejected out of hand, but in this case it is improbable that it involved East Polynesia. There are substantial differences in the sewn-plank canoes at issue and the compound hooks are of a general form that is not confined to Polynesia. The chronology of East Polynesian colonization is probably too late for diffusion to southern California before A.D. 700. East Polynesian seafaring may have been inadequate to reach the Californian coast. If the explanation is diffusionary, then a source in East Asia is more plausible.”

blue pin Estrada, E., et al. “Possible Transpacific Contact on the Coast of Ecuador.” Science 135.3501 (1962): 371–372. Print.

blue pin Flett, Iona, and Simon Haberle. “East of Easter: Traces of Human Impact in the Far-Eastern Pacific.” Islands of Inquiry: Colonisation, Seafaring and the Archaeology of Maritime Landscapes. Ed. Geoffrey Clark, Foss Leach, and Sue O’Connor. Canberra: Australian National University, 2008. 281-300. Print.

blue pin Gongora, J., et al. (2008). “Indo-European and Asian Origins for Chilean and Pacific Chickens Revealed by mtDNA.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105 (30): 10308–10313. Web.

blue pin Green, R. C. “Sweet Potato Transfers in Polynesian Prehistory.” The Sweet Potato in Oceania: A Reappraisal. Ed. Chris Ballard, Paula Brown, R M. Bourke, and Tracy A. Harwood. Sydney: University of Sydney, 2005. 43-62. Print.

blue pin Heyerdahl, Thor, and Arne Skjølsvold. Archaeological Evidence of Pre-Spanish Visits to the Galaṕagos Islands. Salt Lake City: Society for American Archaeology, 1956. Print.

blue pin Jones, Terry L., and Kathryn A. Klar. “Diffusionism Reconsidered: Linguistic and Archaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Polynesian Contact with Southern California.” American Antiquity 70.3 (Jul. 2005): 457-484.

“While the prevailing theoretical orthodoxy of North American archaeology overwhelmingly discourages consideration of transoceanic cultural diffusion, linguistic and archaeological evidence appear to indicate at least one instance of direct cultural contact between Polynesia and southern California during the prehistoric era. Three words used to refer to boats – including the distinctive sewn-plank canoe used by Chumashan and Gabrielino speakers of the southern California coast – are odd by the phonotactic and morphological standards of their languages and appear to correlate with Proto-Central Eastern Polynesian terms associated with woodworking and canoe construction. Chumashan and Gabrielino speakers seem to have borrowed this complex of words along with the sewn-plank construction technique itself sometime between ca. A.D. 400 and 800, at which time there is also evidence for punctuated adaptive change (e.g., increased exploitation of pelagic fish) and appearance of a Polynesian style two-piece bone fishhook in the Santa Barbara Channel. These developments were coeval with a period of major exploratory seafaring by the Polynesians that resulted in the discovery and settlement of Hawaii – the nearest Polynesian outpost to southern California. Archaeological and ethnographic information from the Pacific indicates that the Polynesians had the capabilities of navigation, boat construction, and sailing, as well as the cultural incentives to complete a one-way passage from Hawaii to the mainland of southern California. These findings suggest that diffusion and other forms of historical contingency still need to be considered in constructions of North American prehistory.”

blue pin Jones, Terry, ed. Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2011. Print.

“This book presents evidence of Polynesian settlement along the western coasts of North and South America prior to European contact – a controversial viewpoint throughout the last century. The contributors address the evidence offered by DNA, radiocarbon tests, comparative linguistics, the archaeological record, and oral tradition.”


  • Chapter 1: Re-introducing the Case for Polynesian Contact
  • Chapter 2: Diffusionism in Archaeological Theory: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
  • Chapter 3: Myths and Oral Traditions
  • Chapter 4: A Longstanding Debate
  • Chapter 5: The Artifact Record from North America
  • Chapter 6: The Mapuche Connection
  • Chapter 7: Identifying Contact with the Americas: A Commensal Based Approach
  • Chapter 8: A Reappraisal of the Evidence for Pre-Columbian Introduction of Chickens to the Americas
  • Chapter 9: Did Ancient Polynesians Reach the New World? Evaluating Evidence from the Ecuadorian Gulf of Guayaquil
  • Chapter 10: Words from Furthest Polynesia: North and South American Linguistic Evidence for Prehistoric Contact
  • Chapter 11: Human Biological Evidence for Polynesian Contacts with the Americas: Finding Maui on Mocha or Kupe in Carmel?
  • Chapter 12: Rethinking the Chronology of Colonization of Southeast Polynesia
  • Chapter 13: Sailing from Polynesia to the Americas

blue pin Lawler, Andrew. “Beyond Kon-Tiki: Did Polynesians Sail to South America?” Science 328.5984 (2010): 1344–1347. Print.

blue pin Lie, B. A., et al. “Molecular Genetic Studies of Natives on Easter Island: Evidence of an Early European and Amerindian Contribution to the Polynesian Gene Pool”. Tissue Antigens 69 (2007): 10. Web.

blue pin Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth, and Jose-Miguel Ramirez. “Human Skeletal Evidence of Polynesian Presence in South America? Metric Analyses of Six Crania from Mocha Island, Chile.” Journal of Pacific Archaeology 1.1 (2010). Web.

“In 2007 the discovery of pre-Columbian chicken bones from Chile provided the first conclusive evidence for prehistoric Polynesian contact with South America. When looking for further commensal data to address the issue of trans-Pacific contacts, the authors found a museum collection of human remains recovered from Mocha Island, a small island located approximately 30 km off the Chilean coast. The morphology of the crania suggests they may be of Polynesian ancestry. Here they present craniometric analyses for the six complete crania from Mocha Island and discuss the implications for further research into prehistoric trans-Pacific interaction.”

blue pin Matisoo-Smith, Elizabeth, “Human Biological Evidence for Polynesian Contacts with the Americas: Finding Maui on Mocha or Kupe in Carmel.” Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World. Ed. Terry Jones. Lanham: AltaMira Press, 2011. Print.

blue pin Storey, A. A., et al.. “Radiocarbon and DNA Evidence for a Pre-Columbian Introduction of Polynesian Chickens to Chile.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104.25 (2007): 10335–10339. Web.

blue pin Thorsby, E., et al. “Further Evidence of an Amerindian Contribution to the Polynesian Gene Pool on Easter Island.” Tissue Antigens 73.6 (2009): 582–585. Web.

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