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Affinities among Melanesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians: A Neutral, Biparental Genetic Perspective

From: Human Biology
Volume 74, Number 3, June 2002
pp. 413-430 | 10.1353/hub.2002.0031

Abstract

The human colonization of Remote Oceania, the vast Pacific region including Micronesia, Polynesia, and Melanesia beyond the northern Solomon Islands, ranks as one of the greatest achievements of prehistory. Many aspects of human diversity have been examined in an effort to reconstruct this late Holocene expansion. Archaeolinguistic analyses describe a rapid expansion of Austronesian-speaking "Lapita people" from Taiwan out into the Pacific. Analyses of biological markers, however, indicate genetic contributions from Pleistocene-settled Near Oceania into Micronesia and Polynesia, and genetic continuity across Melanesia. Thus, conflicts between archaeolinguistic and biological patterns suggest either linguistic diffusion or gene flow across linguistic barriers throughout Melanesia. To evaluate these hypotheses and the general utility of linguistic patterns for conceptualizing Pacific prehistory, we analyzed 14 neutral, biparental genetic (short tandem repeat) loci from 965 individuals representing 27 island Southeast Asian, Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian populations. Population bottlenecks during the colonization of Remote Oceania are indicated by a statistically significant regression of loss of heterozygosity on migration distance from island Southeast Asia (r = 0.78, p < 0.001). Genetic and geographic distances were consistently correlated (r > 0.35, p < 0.006), indicating extensive gene flow primarily focused among neighboring populations. Significant correlations between linguistic and geographic patterns and between genetic and linguistic patterns depended upon the inclusion of Papuan speakers in the analyses. These results are consistent with an expansion of Austronesian-speaking populations out of island Southeast Asia and into Remote Oceania, followed by substantial gene flow from Near Oceanic populations. Although linguistic and genetic distinctions correspond at times, particularly between Western and Central-Eastern Micronesia, gene flow has reduced the utility of linguistic data within Melanesia. Overall, geographic proximity is a better predictor of biparental genetic relationships than linguistic affinities.



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