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NYTimes.com Article: For Kon-Tiki Theory, Ray of Hope Is Dashed

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  • ann.popplestone@tri-c.cc.oh.us
    This article from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by ann.popplestone@tri-c.cc.oh.us. For Kon-Tiki Theory, Ray of Hope Is Dashed April 1, 2003 By NICHOLAS WADE
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2003
      This article from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by ann.popplestone@....

      For Kon-Tiki Theory, Ray of Hope Is Dashed

      April 1, 2003

      The explorer Thor Heyerdahl insisted, contrary to all
      expert opinion, that Polynesia had been settled by people
      from South America. He hewed balsa logs with his own hands,
      persuaded five companions to join him and courageously
      sailed his raft the Kon-Tiki from Callao, Peru, to the
      Raroia atoll in Polynesia, a journey of 4,300 miles.

      His imaginative voyage proved that ancient Incas could have
      traveled to Polynesia with the means that they had
      available. But did they in fact do so?

      Experts said the languages had nothing in common, and the
      archaeological evidence suggests that the Polynesians
      originated somewhere in Southeast Asia.

      Still, there are a few provocative signs of early contact
      between the Americas and Polynesia, like the existence in
      Polynesia of the sweet potato and the bottle gourd, dating
      from prehistoric times. Both are crops of South American

      A team of archaeologists and geneticists now reports
      another sign. On Rapa, a tiny Polynesian island near
      Tahiti, the team found that several men carried Y
      chromosomes with a DNA pattern distinctive to American
      Indians. Was it possible that the islands had been
      colonized first from South America and later by waves of
      immigrants from Southeast Asia, as the discredited
      Heyerdahl had said all along? (Heyerdahl died last year, at

      The new finding is reported in The American Journal of
      Human Genetics by Dr. Matthew Hurles, an archaeologist at
      the University of Cambridge, and other English colleagues.

      But before tying their colors to Heyerdahl's mast, they
      prudently analyzed the mitochondrial DNA, a genetic element
      passed down only in the female line, in their Rapan
      subjects. There were no signs of American Indian lineages
      of mitochondrial DNA, suggesting that there could not have
      been an ancient settlement of American Indians, because the
      female lineages should have survived as well as the male

      So the researchers hit the archives to see whether they
      could find any other explanation, and they chanced upon a
      curious tale.

      In 1862 and 1863, they say, Peru tried to enter the slave
      trade. The effort was rapidly squashed by the weight of
      international disapproval, but not before 6,000 Polynesians
      had been kidnapped.

      Some Polynesians, however, fought back. In January 1863,
      the Rapans were warned that the slaving ship Cora would
      arrive. When it did, they overpowered the crew members,
      taking most of them to Tahiti for trial. But some crewmen
      remained on Rapa, including three Chileans and a Mexican,
      according to the French-language newspaper Messager de

      Meanwhile, the Peruvians decided to return the slaves whom
      they had improperly captured, though many had died from
      harsh labor or disease. A ship set out with 470 liberated
      slaves, but 439 died from disease, and their bodies were
      thrown overboard. The captain dropped off 15 survivors at
      Easter Island and the rest at Rapa.

      More disasters followed. The repatriated Polynesians
      carried a disease, whether smallpox or dysentery, that
      devastated Rapa in 1864. The crew members of the slave ship
      were probably more resistant than the Polynesians. And that
      is why their chromosomes are quite common among residents

      Despite having found the first traces of American Y
      chromosomes in Polynesia, Dr. Hurles and his colleagues are
      no nearer to explaining the prehistoric contacts that
      carried the sweet potato and bottle gourd to the islands.

      The lesson of their study, the researchers said, is "the
      need to account for events in history before turning to


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