Polynesians brought chickens to Americas before Columbus
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
June 4, 2007

New DNA analysis shows that Polynesians introduced chickens to South America well before Christopher Columbus first set foot in the New World. The evidence supports the theory that the Americas were visited by sea-faring groups from the East prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Using carbon dating and analysis DNA to determine the origin of chicken bones discovered at El Arenal, an archaeological site in Chile, a team of researchers led by Alice Storey of the University of Auckland found that the birds were descended from Polynesian stock and were introduced at least 100 years before the arrival of Europeans on the continent.

The findings undermine claims that chickens were native to South America or that they were introduced by Spanish or Portuguese explorers.

Photo by Rhett A. Butler

"A Portuguese or Spanish introduction to the east coast of South America around AD 1500 has been suggested, but when Pizarro reached Peru in 1532, he found that chickens were already an integral part of Incan religious ceremonies and culture, suggesting at least some history of chickens in the region," the authors write. "Consequently, there have been numerous suggestions of a pre-European chicken introduction to the west coast of South America, in which both Asian and Polynesian contacts have been proposed. Here, we provide the first unequivocal evidence for a pre-European introduction of chickens to South America and indicate, through ancient DNA evidence, that the likely source of that introduction was Polynesia."

The researchers say the study has implications for "debates about ancient Polynesian voyaging capabilities as well as those addressing prehistoric population interactions and exchange."

Other evidence of pre-Colombian visits by Asian or Polynesians

Chickens are not the only evidence that the Americas were visited by foreign mariners prior to 1492. Archeologists note the presence of South American sweet potato and maize, crops that would have only been propagated by humans, in pre-European archaeological sites in Polynesia and southeast Asia. Further, linguists have found tries between languages spoken in the Mapuche region of south central Chile and Polynesia, while archeologists have discovered remains of Chinese pottery at pre-Colombian sites in the America.

In his controversial book 1421, Gavin Menzies proposes possible colonization of sites in North and South America by Chinese sailors between 1421-1423. Reviewing historical logs of early European explorers, he notes that Francisco de Orellana reports the presence of dozens of Asian-origin plant species along the banks of the Amazon river and that other accounts suggest the existence of small Chinese "colonies" in North and South America. Menzies argues that sea-faring junks would have carried Chinese sailors to the Americas. Polynesians would have likely arrived earlier in small canoes or rafts.

Alice Storey, José Miguel Ramírez, Daniel Quiroz, David Burley, David Addison, Richard Walter, Atholl Anderson, Terry Hunt, J. Stephen Athens, Leon Huynen, Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith (2007). "Radiocarbon and DNA Evidence for a Pre-Columbian Introduction of Polynesian Chickens to Chile."


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Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com (June 04, 2007).

Polynesians brought chickens to Americas before Columbus.