Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Ancient Transoceanic Voyage

 On April 28, 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) set sail from Callao, Peru in a balsa wood raft built with primitive technology. 16th century Spanish and Indian chroniclers left drawings of balsa wood rafts Europeans saw plying the waters off South America when they first came to Peru. Heyerdahl's raft was similar to those depicted in the old drawings.

Thor Heyerdahl's Raft on Display in the Kon Tiki Museum, Oslo, Norway.
Photo by Kirk Magleby, June 8, 2009.

After drifting in the South Equatorial Current for 101 days and traveling more than 7,000 straight-line kilometers, Heyerdahl's raft crashed into the atoll at Raroaia in the Tuamotu Archipelago, French Polynesia, on August 7, 1947. Heyerdahl demonstrated that pre-contact South Americans could have reached eastern Polynesia using materials and techniques available to them.
1947 Kon Tiki Expedition Embarkation and Landfall Points

One person fascinated by Heyerdahl's expedition was John L. Sorenson (1924-2021), then serving as a missionary on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, 1,900 straight line kilometers west of Raroaia. Sorenson got exciting news of Heyerdahl's voyage via shortwave radio. Ancient transoceanic contacts would be one of Sorenson's research passions for the rest of his life. 

Other scholars were less impressed, writing off Heyerdahl's heroics as a publicity stunt. The hard science, they insisted, was showing gradual population of Polynesia from Melanesia (New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Fiji) to the west.

Heyerdahl's scholarly reputation was rehabilitated when an article appeared in the journal Nature on July 8, 2020. Nature is the #1 peer reviewed academic journal on the planet with an impact factor of 42.778. An article entitled "Native American gene flow into Polynesia predating Easter Island settlement" was written by Alexander G. Ioannidis of Stanford, Javier Blanco-Portillo, and Andrés Moreno-Estrada, both of National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity (LANGEBIO), Irapuato, Mexico, plus 33 co-authors from 5 countries. Deep ancestry genomic research in the Americas and Polynesia demonstrated at least one contact ca. AD 1150 between the Zenu people of Colombia and French Polynesia. Genetic inheritance from Colombia is now demonstrated for the South Marquesas (AD 1150), the North Marquesas (AD 1200), Palliser (AD 1230), Mangareva (AD 1230), and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) (AD 1380).
DNA Transfer from South America to Polynesia

This means that while Cahokia was at its peak on the Mississippi, while Tula Hidalgo was interacting with Chichén Itzá in Mexico, and while the crusades were just getting underway in Europe and the Middle East, at least one person from northern South America traversed more than 7,000 kilometers of open ocean and founded a posterity that has remained in eastern Polynesia ever since. Never underestimate ancient American capabilities. As a point of reference, the straight line distance from Tenerife in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean (the Atlantic traversed by Columbus) is 4,756 kilometers.