MOTHER TONGUE
Newsletter of the Association for the Study of Language In Prehistory

Issue 26 · Spring 1996


More Polynesian Ties Westward

Alvah Hicks reports on Melton et al, 1995. "Polynesian Genetic Affinities with Southeast Asian Populations as Identified by mtDNA Analysis". AM.J.HUM.GENET. 57:404-409. (with M. Stoneking) Alvah's summary: "This 9-bp deletion is largely absent in Melanesian populations -- for example, aboriginal groups of Australia and highland Papua New Guinea (PNG) -- while it is present in coastal populations of PNG that are thought to be more recent arrivals to the island (Hertzberg et al 1989; Stoneking et al 1992). While the frequency of this deletion has been reported for many populations throughout Asia, the frequency alone does not reveal either the source of the deletion or the origin of Polynesians."

"It is interesting that the six southern Indians with the 9-bp deletion found in this study share their mtDNA types most closely with those from China and Borneo, suggesting that migration from these regions west to India and Sri Lanka may be a possibility."

"We observed that the Polynesian motif, this trio of nucleotide changes in the control region at positions 16217, 16247, and 16261 (CGT), occurred exclusively on the background of the 9-bp deletion. This motif, seen in 79.2% of Samoans and 73.9% of coastal Papua New Guineans, was observed in 20% of east Indonesians with the 9-bp deletion. These east Indonesians were from the islands of Alor, Flores, Hiri, Ternate, and Timor. Remarkably, it was not observed elsewhere in Southeast Asia (including Borneo and Java in Indonesia), except in 1 of 81 Malays and probably 1 of 176 Filipinos." (End of Melton etal)

When will biogeneticists pay some attention to taxonomies other than their own? Three of the east Indonesian islands have Indo-Pacific languages on them (Timor, Alor, Ternate) and the other two are in the same area. That these should be connected to coastal New Guinea and the Polynesian route eastward is to be expected. Melton et al have found a special areal genetic trait, probably an initial mutation found in some Indo-Pacific peoples but not in highland New Guinea. Sans doute the insular NAN-folk have been distinct from Papuan highlanders for a long long time. OR the mutation occurred within the ancestral Oceanic branch of the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian sub-phylum of Austronesian. One also wonders when and what will be found when mtDNA is taken from Andamanese and not-so-old fossil Tasmanians.

We also record that Alvah Hicks believes the 9-bp deletion began among native Americans who bore it to Polynesia and beyond.


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