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Skeletal Evidence of Early Polynesian and Melanesian Contact in East Asia

Posted by PLOS_Genetics on 26 Feb 2008 at 05:45 GMT

Originally submitted as a Reader Response by Clyde Winters ( on 25 January 2008:

The ancestors of the Melanesians and Polynesians probably lived in East Asia. The late appearance of Melanoid people from East Asia on the shore areas of Oceania would explain the differences between the genetic make up of Melanesians living in the highlands and Melanesians living along the shore [1-2].

The skeletal evidence from East Asia [3-7,12] suggests that the TMRCAs of the Polynesians and some of the coastal Melanesians may be mainland East Asia, not Taiwan. The ancestral population for the shoreline Melanesians was probably forced from East Asia by Proto-Polynesians as they were pushed into Southeast Asia by the Han or contemporary Chinese. This would explain the genetic diversity existing among shoreline Melanesians, in comparison to the genetic homogeneity among isolated inland Melanesian, like the Highland New Guineans.

There were two Shang Dynasties, one Melanoid (Qiang-Shang) and the other Proto-Polynesian (Yin-Shang). The first Shang Dynasty was founded by Proto-Melanesians or Melanoids belonging to the Yueh tribe called Qiang [7]. The Qiang lived in Qiangfeng, a country to the west of Yin-Shang, Shensi and Yunnan [7-11,13].

The archaeological evidence also indicates that the Polynesians probably originated in East Asia [4,6-7,12-13]. Consequently, the Polynesian migration probably began in East Asia, not Southeast Asia. Taiwan genetically probably belongs to the early Polynesians who settled Taiwan before they expanded into outer Oceania.

Given the archaeological record of intimate contact between Proto-Polynesians and Proto-Melanoids, neither a “slow boat” or “express train” explains the genetic relationship between the Melanesian and Polynesian populations. This record makes it clear that these populations lived in intimate contact for thousands of years and during this extended period of interactions both groups probably exchanged genes.

1. Manfred Kayser, Oscar Lao, Kathrin Saar, Silke Brauer, Xingyu Wang, Peter Nürnberg, Ronald J. Trent, Mark Stoneking Genome-wide Analysis Indicates More Asian than Melanesian Ancestry of Polynesians. The American Journal of Human Genetics - 10 January 2008, 82 (1); pp. 194-198.
2. J. S. Fredlaender, F.R. Friedlaender, J.A. Hodgson, M. Stoltz, G. Koki, G. Horvat,S. Zhadanov, T. G. Schurr and D.A. Merriwether, Melanesian mtDNA complexity, PLoS ONE, 2(2) 2007: e248.
3 F. Weidenreich F., Bull. Nat. Hist. Soc. Peiping 13, (1938-40): p. 163.
4. Kwang-chih Chang, Archaeology of ancient China (Yale University Press, 1986) p. 64.
5. G. H. R. von Koenigswald, A giant fossil hominoid from the pleistocene of Southern China, Anthropology Pap. Am Museum of Natural History, no.43, 1952, pp. 301-309).
6. K. C. Chang, The archaeology of ancient China, (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1977): p. 76
7. Winters, Clyde Ahmad, “The Far Eastern Origin of the Tamils”, Journal of Tamil Studies, no27 (June 1985), pp. 65-92.
8. K. C. Chang, Shang Civilization, (Yale University Press: New Haven, 1980) pp. 227-230.
9. C. A. Winters, The Dravido-Harappa Colonization of Central Asia, Central Asiatic Journal, (1990) 34 (1-2), pp. 120-144.
10. Y. Kan, The Bronze culture of western Yunnan, Bull. Of the Ancient Orient Museum (Tokyo), 7 (1985), pp. 47-91.
11. S. S. Ling, A study of the Raft, Outrigger, Double, and Deck canoes of ancient China, the Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. The Institute of Ethnology Academic Sinica. Nankang, Taipei Taiwan, 1970.
12. Kwang-chih Chang, “Prehistoric and early historic culture horizons and traditions in South China”, Current Anthropology, 5 (1964): pp. 359-375: 375).
13. Winters, Clyde Ahmad, “Dravidian Settlements in ancient Polynesia”, India Past and Present 3, no2 (1986): pp. 225-241.

RE: Skeletal Evidence of Early Polynesian and Melanesian Contact in East Asia

PLOS_Genetics replied to PLOS_Genetics on 26 Feb 2008 at 05:55 GMT

Originally submitted as a Reader Response by Jonathan Friedlaender ( on 5 February 2008:

It is clear that Africa is the homeland of modern humanity, one way or another. Our paper is consistent with the "Out of Africa" hypothesis for the majority of STR variants (figure 2), although there is still room for suggestion of minor contributions from earlier Homo erectus populations.

However, we did not find any signature of a special relationship between the (small number of) African populations sampled in the CEPH panel and any of our Pacific groups, either by Structure analysis of STR frequencies, or by shared rare alleles. This may change, but that's the result we obtained with the available data.

We did find unequivocal genetic evidence of ties between Polynesians, Micronesians, and Taiwan Aborigines (as well as East Asians). Papuan-speaking groups in Island Melanesia are very distinctive, but do not seem to be especially related to Africans in spite of some similarities in appearances.

Regarding the craniometric evidence, Michael Pietrusewsky's work in Asia and the Pacific is the authoritative contemporary reference, although I believe his interpretation of Island Melanesian "intermediate" status should be altered. However, I am certain he would reject any argument that there is any evidence of recent African influence in East Asia, much less Island Melanesia.

RE: RE: Skeletal Evidence of Early Polynesian and Melanesian Contact in East Asia

ClydeWinters replied to PLOS_Genetics on 08 Apr 2008 at 09:07 GMT

Friedlaender fails to recognize that there is a craniometric difference between Australoids /Australians, Mongoloids and Melanoids; craniometric differences that indicate two migrations of the Black Variety into the Pacific. Tsuenehiko Hanihare discussed the phenotypic variations between these populations(1). Tsuenehiko classified these people into three major populations Southeast Asian Mongoloids (Polynesians), the Australians or Austroloid type and the Nicobar and Andaman (Melanoid) samples which he found lie between the predominately Southeast Asian and Australoid/Australian type (1).
The Australian aborigines and Melanesians show cranonical variates and represent two distinct Black populations(2). The Australoids or Australians live mainly in Australia and the highland regions of Oceania, the Melanoid people on the otherhand live in the coastal regions of Near Oceania and Fiji. D.J de Laubenfels discussed the variety of Blacks found in Asia. Laubenfiels explained that Negroids/Melanoids such as the Tasmanians are characterized by wooly black hair and sparse body hair (2). Australoids or Australians on the otherhand have curly, wavy or straight hair and abundant body hair. Other differences between these Black populations include Negroid / Melanoid brows being vertical and without eyebrow ridges, whereas Australoid brows are sloping and with prominent ridges (2).
This led M. Pietrusewky to recognize two separate colonizations of the Pacific by morphologically distinct populations one Polynesian and the other Melanesian (3). Pietrusewky’s research indicates a clear separation between the Australian-Melanesian crania and the Polynesian crania (3). The findings indicate an origin for the Polynesians in Southeast Asia (3-5), and an early Australo-Melanesian presence in East Asia as discussed in the earlier comment.
Laubenfels argues that the Australians are remnants of the original African migration to the region 60kya (2). This view is supported by David Bulbeck who found that the Australian craniometrics are different from the Mongoloid (Polynesian), and Melanoid crania metrics (4). This research indicates that whereas Australian aborigine crania agree with the archaic population of Asia and first group of Africans to exit Africa, they fail to correspond to the Sahulland crania which are distinctly of Southwest Pacific or Melanoid affinity (2,4). This suggests that by the rise of Sahulland there were two distinct Black populations in Asia one Austroloid and the other Melanoid (4).
By the Neolithic the Melanoids or Papuans are associated with millet cultivation at Yangshao and Lougshan according to Pietrusewky’s work (5). Tsang argues that the probable homeland of the Austronesian speakers was the Pearl River delta, here the Melanoid people cultivated millet (6). Sagart believes that there is a Proto-Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian family of languages based on the millet culture the Melanoids introduced to China (7).
Due to the expansion of the Mongoloid population after the fall of the Anyang Shang Dynasty , Melanoids began to settle the Pacific Islands and spread the Lapita culture (8). This is supported by Lapita skeletal remains that lack the characteristic 9b.p. deletion of the Polynesians, but show Melanesian similarities (9-11).
In summary, Melanesian Lapita skeletal remains indicate a Melanoid migration from East Asia to the Pacific (10-11). The crania dating to the first out of Africa exit which has Australian characteristic (2); the appearance of Melanoid people in Sahulland 12000 years ago (4); and the subsequent migration to the Pacific of Melanoids carrying the Lapita culture support two migrations of the Black Variety into the Pacific. Migrations that explain the genetic difference between Polynesians , Near Oceania coastal inhabitants, and the Highlanders in Oceania (9-10) .

1. Tsunehiko Hanihare, Interpretation of craniofacial variations and diversification of East and Southeast Asia. In Bioarchaeology of Southeast Asia. (Eds.) Marc Oxenhan and Nancy Tayles (pp.91-111). Cambridge, 2005.
2. D.J. Laubenfels, Australoids, Negroids and Negroes: A suggested explanation for their distinct distributions. Annals Association of Am. Geographers, 58(1), 1968: 42-50.
3. Michael Pietrusewky, A multivariate craniometric study of the prehistoric and modern inhabitants of Southeast Asia, East Asia and surrounding regions:A human kaleidoscope. Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology, No. 43, 2006: 59-90.
4. David Bulbeck, Australian Aboriginal craniometrics as construed through FORDISC, 2005. Retrieved: 4/2/2008:
5. M. Pietrusewsky, The Physical anthropology of the Pacific, East Asia: A multivariate craniometric analysis. . In L. Sagart, R. Blench, A. Sanchez-Mazos (Eds), The peopling of East Asia Putting together Archaeology,Linguistics and Genetics (pp.201-229). RutledgeCurzon, 2005.
6. Tsang Cheng-Hwa, Recent discoveries at Tapenkeng culture sites in Taiwan;Implications for the problem of Austronesian origins. In The peopling of East Asia Putting together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics ,(Eds) L. Sagart, R. Blench, A. Sanchez-Mazos (pp.63-74). RutledgeCurzon, 2005.
7. L. Sagart, Sino-Tibetan-Austronesian an Updated and improved argument. In L. Sagart, R. Blench, A. Sanchez-Mazos (Eds), The peopling of East Asia Putting together Archaeology, Linguistics and Genetics (pp.161-176). RutledgeCurzon, 2005.
8. C. Winters, Dravidian settlements in ancient Polynesia, India Past and Present, 3 no2 (1986): pp.225-241.
9. E. Hagelberg & J.B. Clegg, Genetic polymorphisms in prehistoric Pacific Islanders determined by analysis of ancient bone DNA. Biological Science, 252 no.1334 (1993) : pp.163-170.
10. M. Pietrusewsky, A study of skeletal and dental remains from Watom Isalnd and comparisons with other Lapita people. Rec. Aust Mus. 41 (1989): pp.235-292.
11. M. Pietrusewky, A Lapita-associated skeleton from Natunuku Fiji, Rec. Aust. Mus., 41 (1989): pp.297-325.