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The diffusion of Polynesian culture in pre-contact America

Polynesian chicken bones may be key to pre-modern contact in America
Polynesian chicken bones may be key to pre-modern contact in America

The debate over trans-oceanic pre-Columbian contact and cultural diffusion between the Old and New world has been quietly raging since the Western world "discovered" the Americas in 1492. The more recent discussion of contact between Polynesia and the west coast of California and Chile has become the topic of many anthropological, biological, archaeological, and ethnological arguments within the twentieth century.

The prestigious academic organization; PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) published an article online entitled "Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile" on June 7, 2007 and again in print on June 19 (The National Academy of Sciences, 1). The groundbreaking find has basically ended the debate over whether or not there was contact between prehistoric Polynesian and American people. The Archaeological Institute of America has named it one of the "Top Ten Discoveries of 2007" (

The find and article, headed by Alice A. Storey, presents hard biological evidence for a Polynesian introduction of a distinctly Polynesian chicken in pre-Columbian Chile. There has long been speculation of trans-pacific contact; however, for the discussion has been largely theoretical, and no distinct piece of data within the right time frame or of distinct Polynesian origins has surfaced until recently. While the debate among archaeologists and anthropologists is a relatively new phenomenon, explorers and academics have noticed the peculiar similarities between American and Polynesian plants, art, language, and fishing technology since the two areas were "discovered".

Storey and her team have made a seminal contribution to the discussions of prehistoric trans-oceanic transportation and Polynesian - American cultural diffusion. But, is the debate over now? Is there no more to investigate or discuss on the subjects now that we have definitive evidence? Hopefully not.

El - Arenal-1's chicken bones are only the tip of a larger cross-cultural study lying in wait for this generation and the next to tackle. The opportunity to revisit the findings of explorers like Cook and visionary anthropologists like Carter is an exciting prospect for the fields of Archeology, Anthropology, Biology, History, Ethnology, Geography, and many others. The nature of the interactions must still be ascertained, and the significance of this cultural diffusion will be debated for years to come.