Thursday, June 28, 2007

PIG DNA AND OCEANIC MIGRATION

Quoted from a recent article by Thomas H. Maugh II in the Los Angeles Times:

A new study of DNA from pigs is rewriting the history of human migration throughout the Pacific, indicating the most island residents in the region had their origin in Vietnam.

Studies of pots and other cultural artifacts had previously suggested that the Polynesian and Oceanic cultures originated in Taiwan and spread rapidly through the Pacific, an idea often called the Express Train or Speedboat Out of Taiwan.

To shed light on this period, a large international team headed by archaeologist Keith Dobney of Durham University in England studied mitochondrial DNA form 781 modern and ancient pigs. The older specimens were obtained from museums and other similar sources.

"Pigs are good swimmers, but not good enough to reach Hawaii", said archaeologist Greger Larson of Uppsala University in Sweden, lead author of the study in Tuesday's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Given the distances between islands, pigs must have been transported, and are thus excellent proxies of human movement."

They found that a single genetic heritage is shared by the modern Vietnamese wild boar; modern feral pigs on the island of Sumatra, Java, and New Guinea; and ancient and modern domestic pigs on several Pacific islands. The genetic signature is not found in Taiwan.

The team said this indicated the islanders' ancestors left Vietnam about 3,600 years ago and traveled through numerous islands before reaching New Guinea and, later, Hawaii and French Polynesia.

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