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Scientists have discovered the mythical homeland of the Polynesians was Taiwan and not, as Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl once famously claimed, South America.
Heyerdahl won international acclaim when he showed that prehistoric sailors could have crossed the Pacific in primitive rafts by making the journey himself on a balsa-wood raft called the Kon-Tiki in 1947.

But while he proved there were trading links between ancient South America and Polynesia, it now appears that the real "Hawaiki" - the Polynesians' original home according to their own myths - is actually Taiwan.

A new DNA study, which was published in the journal PLoS Biology yesterday, found the indigenous population of Taiwan were genetically similar to Polynesians.
The report, by scientists at the Transfusion Medicine Laboratory in Taiwan and Estonia's Biocentre, said: "Analysis of DNA sequences in this study reveals the presence of a motif of three mutations ... (which are) shared among aboriginal Taiwanese, Melanesians and Polynesians. No mainland East Asian population has yet been found to carry lineages derived from these three (DNA) positions.

This suggests that the motif may have evolved in populations living in or near Taiwan at the end of the late Pleistocene period (more than 10,000 years ago). The time element ... requires that we adopt a model according to which the origin of Austronesian (including the Polynesian) migration can be traced back to Taiwan.
"

Heyerdahl first came up with his theory about the origins of Polynesians when he lived on the island of Fatu Hiva in the 1930s and noticed similarities between local plant life and that of South America.
The direction of winds and currents led him to the belief that the Polynesians had travelled from the east and not the north-west. The idea was rubbished by scientists who did not believe prehistoric peoples could have crossed the Pacific.

So, in April 1947, Heyerdahl and five crewmates set out in the Kon-Tiki from Peru on an epic journey that took them 6900 km in 101 days to the island of Raroia.
Dr Ingjerd Hoem, head of research at the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, thinks that Polynesians originated from south-east Asia.
However, she said Heyerdahl, who died in 2002 aged 87, did discover that there had been contact across the Pacific.

"They have found evidence of contact in plants like yams and a kind of cotton which were brought from South America" - Dr Ingjerd Hoem.

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Human settlers made it to the Americas 30,000 years earlier than previously thought, according to new evidence.
British scientists came to this controversial conclusion by dating human footprints preserved by volcanic ash in an abandoned quarry in Mexico.
The first Americans may have arrived by sea, rather than by foot.
The currently accepted theory is that the continent's early inhabitants arrived 12,500 years ago, by crossing a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.
Details of the latest findings were unveiled at the UK Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition.
Scientist Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool's John Moores University and her colleagues found the footprints in the quarry, some 130km south-east of Mexico, in 2003.
But they have only finished dating them this year.



"The footprints were preserved as trace fossils in volcanic ash along what was the shoreline of an ancient volcanic lake" - Ms Silvia Gonzalez.

Early Americans would have most probably walked across the new shoreline as the volcano erupted.
Their footprints were soon covered in more ash and lake sediments and, when water levels rose, became as solid as concrete.
The tracks show that the first colonies may have arrived on water.

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