Chicken DNA bones up theory on Polynesian settlement

March 19, 2014 - 9:14pm

DNA from ancient chicken bones -- some of them from the collections of Terry Hunt, dean of the UO's Robert D. Clark Honors College -- suggests that chickens and the humans that brought them along migrated to South Pacific islands from the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

The newly published findings, according to a research team led by Australia's University of Adelaide, appear to rule out that there had been pre-Columbian contact between chickens introduced by humans coming from South America and those raised by early settlers in the South Pacific islands.

The research team used female-inherited mitochondrial DNA extracted from chicken bones excavated in archaeological digs from islands including Hawaii, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Niue. Details of the study -- published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences -- are in a University of Adelaide news release.

"I worked with the team providing samples of prehistoric chicken bones from our excavations from Rapa Nui as well as modern chicken feathers collected in the Marquesas," said Hunt, a co-author on the study and dean of the Clark Honors College since September.

In addition to his samples, he helped the research team in understanding the results for the region's prehistory, based on his more than 30 years of archaeological fieldwork on South Pacific islands. Before joining the UO, Hunt directed the University of Hawaii Honors Program.

- by Jim Barlow, UO Office of Public Affairs Communications