We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE
A Cautionary Tale on Ancient Migration Detection: Mitochondrial DNA Variation in Santa Cruz Islands, Solomon Islands

Over the past decade, the origin of the first Malayo-Polynesian settlers of the island Pacific has become a contentious issue in molecular anthropology as well as in archaeology and historical linguistics. Whether the descendants of the ancestral Malayo-Polynesian speakers moved rapidly through Indonesia and Island Melanesia in a few hundred years, or whether they were the product of considerable intermingling within the more westerly part of the latter region, it is widely accepted that they were the first humans to colonize the distant Pacific islands beyond the central Solomon Islands approximately 3000 years ago. The Santa Cruz Islands in the Eastern Solomons would have most likely been the first in Remote Oceania to be colonized by them. Archaeologically, the first Oceanic Austronesian settlement of this region appears to have been overlain by various later influences from groups farther west in a complex manner. Molecular anthropologists have tended to equate the spread of various Austronesian-speaking groups with a particular mitochondrial variant (a 9-base-pair [bp] deletion with specific D-loop variants). We have shown before that this is an oversimplified picture, and assumed that the Santa Cruz situation, with its series of intrusions, would be informative as to the power of mitochondrial DNA haplotype interpretations. In the Santa Cruz Islands, the 9-bp deletion is associated with a small number of very closely related hypervariable D-loop haplotypes resulting in a star-shaped Bandelt median network, suggesting a recent population expansion. This network is similar to Polynesian median networks. In a pairwise mismatch comparison, the Santa Cruz haplotypes have a bimodal distribution, with the first cluster being composed almost entirely of the 9-bp-deleted haplotypes—again attesting to their recent origins. Conversely, the nondeleted haplogroups bear signatures of more ancient origins within the general region. Therefore, while the profiles of the two sets of haplotypes indicate very distinctive origins in different populations with divergent expansion histories, the sequence of their introduction into the Santa Cruz Islands clearly does not follow simply.