Abstract: Polynesian Contacts with the New World


The possibility that Polynesian voyagers reached the shores of the New World before Columbus has been considered by scientists and non-scientists alike for nearly two centuries.  In North America where the case for contact has focused on sewn-plank boats and bone and shell fishhooks (which show strong similarities with Polynesian technologies), the possibility was discussed regularly between the 1910s and the 1950s.  In South America the case for contact was considered as far back as the early 1800s based on fishhook styles, sewn-plank boats and chickens on the coast of Chile, and the sweet potato and associated liguistic referents in the north.  By the late 1970s, the possibility of contact especially in the northern hemisphere had disappeared almost entirely from mainstream scholarly discourse due to shifting theoretical priorities.  Benefitting from enhanced perspectives on Polynesian voyaging capabilities that emerged in the 1990s. a number of scholars have rediscovered the long-dormant case for Polynesian contact and a flood of sophisticated new research has been completed on the issue in the last five years.  In this talk I'll review the evidence for Polynesian contact with the Americas in the northern and southern hemispheres and ponder the question of why American (and some Pacific) scholarscontinue to dismiss the possibility of such contacts even though the passages involved were well within the capabilities of Polynesian seafarers.


Short bibliography and website on lecture topic:


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Ballard, C., P. Brown, R.M. Bourke, and T. Harwood, The Sweet Potato in Oceania: A Reappraisal, The University of Sydney, Australia.

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Dixon, R.B. 1918. Culture Contact and Migration versus Independent Origin: A Pleas for More Light. American Anthropologist 20:124-28.

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Jones, T.L., A.A. Storey, E.A. Matisso-Smith,a nd J.M. Ramirez-Aliaga (eds.) 2011 Polynesians in America: Pre-Columbian Contacts with the New World. Altamira Press, New York.

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Ramirez, J.M. 1991. Transpacific contacts: "The Mapuche connection." Rapa Nui Journal 4:53-55.

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Scaglion, R. 2005. Kumara in the Ecuadorian Gulf of Guayaquil? In The Sweet Potato in Oceania: A Reappraisal, edited by C. Ballard, P. Brown, R.M. Bourke, and T. Harwood, pp. 35-41. The University of Sidney, Australia.

Storey, A.A., J.M. Ramirez, D. Quiroz, D.V. Burley, D.J. Addison, R. Walter, A.J. Anderson, T.L. Hunt, J.S. Athens, L. Huynen, and E.A. Matisoo-Smith. 2007. Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 104:10335-10339.

Storey, A.A., D. Quiroz, J.M. Ramirez, N. Beavan-Athfield, D.J. Addison, R. Walter, T. Hunt, J.S. Athens, L. Huynen, and E.A. Matisoo-Smith. 2008. Pre-Columbia chickens, dates, isotopes, and mtDNA. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 105:E99.


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