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Oct 24, 2014 11:01 AM EDT

Easter Island Was Not Populated Solely by the Polynesians, According to New Genetic Study

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One of the most mysterious islands in the world, Easter Island's ancient inhabitants may not have been so alone before Westerners found it in 1722.

According to Reuters, authors of a genetic study published in the journal Current Biology found that the Polynesians who lived on Easter Island had guests. Hundreds of years before explorers found the island, the Easter Islanders has "significant contact" with Native American peoples.

Also known as Rapa Nui, the island is known for its 900 massive stone face statues that sit on the cliffs and look out on the sea.

"We found evidence of gene flow between this population and Native American populations, suggesting an ancient ocean migration route between Polynesia and the Americas," study lead author Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, a geneticist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, told Reuters.

Researchers believe the ancient Polynesians on Easter Island's culture began to flourish in the 13th century and then went into decline in the 16th century. The genetic data from 27 of the island's Polynesian inhabitants showed interbreeding with South American natives somewhere between 1300 and 1500.

Easter Island lies about 2,300 miles west of South America and the closest island is about 1,100 miles away. The remoteness of Rapa Nui has brought up theories about how the stone faces were built and assembled as they are given how long ago they were constructed.

"Early human populations extensively explored the planet," Malaspinas said in a press release. "Textbook versions of human colonization events-the peopling of the Americas, for example-need to be re-evaluated utilizing genomic data."

Mark Stoneking, a geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, contributed to the study by conducting a related analysis of the Botocudo, who were Brazil's indigenous people.

"It seems most likely that they voyaged from Rapa Nui to South America and brought South Americans back to Rapa Nui and admixed with them," he told Reuters. "So it will be interesting to see if in further studies any signal of Polynesian, Rapa Nui ancestry can be found in South Americans."

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