Le Pacifiquede 5000 h 2000 avant le pr6sent/ The Paci ic from 5000 to 2000 BP
"Polynesians, considering their wide geographic distribution, show a remarkable homo- geneity ...[thus] to settle Polynesia with a group evolved from one of the varied popu- lation of Island Melanesia makes the simplest plausible thesis" (Houghton 1989: 229)
It is worthwhile noting that such a feat would require Polynesians to independently evolve a number of Mongoloid features, including the epicanthic eyefold, 9 base pair deletion (see below), and shovel-shaped incisors. An unlikely scenario under any cir- cumstances and impossible in the present instance, considering the miniscule amount of evolutionary time available.
Geneticists generally support the majority view. Serjeantson and Hill believe that
"the extreme view ...that Polynesians evolved within Melanesia from a population resi- dent there for at least 30,000 years, is untenable in the light of the genetic evidence. It seems quite implausible that a group evolving within Melanesia could have acquired, by chance so many non-Melanesian genes!" (1989:287)
Others, while also arguing for a southeast Asian ancestry for Polynesians conclude, from the evidence of ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) extracted from prehistoric Pacific skeletal material, that Melanesians were in fact the first to arrive in West Polynesia, followed, rather than preceded by, the southeast Asians:
"it appears that the earliest inhabitants of the central Pacific ... may have originated in Melanesia ... [this] implies that the Lapita culture was carried from its Melanesian homeland into the central Pacific by indigenous inhabitants of Island Melanesia rather than by Austronesian-speaking migrants from Southeast Asia ... our results give little credence to the traditional view that the Lapita people were essentially Polynesians" [italics mine] (Hagelberg and Clegg 1993:168).
The basis for their argument is that the 9 base pair (9 bp) deletion, a Southeast Asian mitochondrial DNA marker found in almost 100% of modem Polynesian individuals, is absent from the Melanesian islands of New Britain and Vanuatu, and from early samples (2700 - 1600 BP) from the Polynesian islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, although it is present in a later Tongan sample.
It is evident therefore that there may be some element of doubt as to how closely the Lapita people and the Polynesians are related. So how do we define in biological terms what is meant by the word "Polynesian"? What does the skeletal evidence from Lapita sites actually show? What features are common to both?
To some extent skeletal studies in this region have begun to go round in circles. Metrically, the region has been analysed and reanalysed almost to the point of complete exhaustion and non-metric studies of morphological features on skeletal remains have also been fairly comprehensive. Such analyses have now proceeded as far as the tech- niques and human skeletal variation permit, without a new approach. There is still much