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1 Human skeletal remains from the I Pacific region

Nicola van Dijk Archaeologist

For more than 130 years, scholars have been debating the biological origin of the Polynesians.The early explorers were probably correct when they argued for Southeast or East Asia as a starting point for colonisation, as Polynesians have a suite of clearly Asian features, however many and varied theories arguing for a Micronesian, Melanesian, Japanese or South American origin have arisen since then.

The "fast-train" model is currently the most popular archaeological and linguistic fra- mework in which to interpret the settlement of the Central Pacific region. This model states that modem Polynesians are directly descended from proto-Polynesian voyagers from island SoutheastAsia, who subsequently voyaged from the Bismarck Archipelago region to the Central Pacific around 3600-2500 years BP (Bellwood 1989). The majo- rity of biological anthropologists, from De Quatrefages (1864) to Howells (1973, 1979) and Pietrusewsky (1984, 1989, 1990), would agree with this basic construct. Pietrusewsky, for example, notes: "Larger multivariate comparisons employing many more measurements recorded on crania of Pacific, Australian, Southeast Asain and East Asian populations strongly sug- gest a Southeast Asian origin of Polynesians. Other data from physical anthropology, dental and recent genetic data suggest a similar interpretation which does not support a Melanesian origin of Polynesians in the Bismarck Archipelago region." (1991:2)

It is also widely argued (Bellwood 1989, Pietrusewsky 1990) that the ancestors of the Polynesians were associated with a culture known as Lapita, which can be recognised archaeologicallyby its distinctivestyleof pottery,domesticated animalsand voyaging skills.

There is a small number of archaeologists (Terrell 1986, White et al. 1989) however, who disagree with this model. Their arguments, that the Lapita culture was ancestral to that of the Polynesians and developed within island Melanesia, have led Houghton (1990) to assume that Polynesians physically evolved out of populations which had been resident within Melanesia for 30,000 years:

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