The question of how Polynesian people came to live in the Pacific has remained unanswered for many centuries. For a long time the belief that Polynesian people may have originated from the Americas have lingered although research now shows that the origins of Polynesia people actually lie in Southeast Asia.
Recent published studies have shown that there is evidence of Native American ancestry in a number of Polynesian populations, suggesting that people did travel from the Americas to the Pacific at one time or another and that they might have mixed with Polynesian people.
Other research has found that there was Native American DNA in the genomes of modern Rapa Nui people but it has been argued that this likely happened in recent history when colonists from Chile reached the island. There have however been signs that contact occurred before then, possibly contact occurred once around 1200 AD or 1082 AD which predates the agreed dates of the settlement of Rap Nui. Researchers have suggested that it’s possible that when Polynesian people settled on the islands they might have come across a small group of already settled Native American people. This theory is further solidified by the presence of the sweet potato kumara which is found in the Americas and Eastern Polynesia. Remains of the sweet potato have been found to be up to 1,000 years old and suggest a link between Polynesians and the Americas.
Whilst there is some evidence to suggest that contact between Polynesians and the Americas might have taken place it is difficult to say for sure. It’s also difficult to assess how contact might have taken place based on the information available, did people from the Americas explore the open ocean or did contact occur in some other form?