Skull, bones, and DNA help reveal genetic groups in Kosrae 300 years ago

skullAdam Thompson
A 300-year old gravesite that was destroyed by local Kosraean landowners while mining sand has revealed new findings about the history of Kosrae. Ancient DNA obtained from human bones salvaged from the destroyed grave showed that two distinct genetic groups lived on the island together 300 years ago. Few ancient genetic studies have been performed in Micronesia due to a lack of archaeological material making these findings all the more valuable.
The genetic haplotype group B4b is believed to be more common in Micronesia while the haplotype group B4a is more closely associated with Polynesia. The presence of both genetic types within the grave shows that multiple migrations to Kosrae had occurred prior to 300 years ago.


These findings may provide physical evidence for an explanation of the myths within Kosrae that tell of the arrival of giants. The myth of Niwa tells how giants came to the island and scared away the people that were living there before but that Niwa remained on the island. A similar myth is told for the island of Atafu in Tokelau where the original inhabitants of the island were scared away but no one remained. On Atafu, genetic studies have found that the island was inhabited by people of the genetic group B4b from 300-600 years ago but were replaced by a separate group of people of the B4a type 300 years ago at the same time as the grave found on Kosrae. The earliest dates for the settlement of the Polynesian outliers of Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro are also around this time. Thus it appears that a wave of Polynesian migration moved northwest taking over Tokelau, settling Kapingamarangi and Nukuoro, and co-habitating with the people of Kosrae.
The ancient grave on Kosrae was found at Yekula and is closely associated with the worship of Sinlaku and the ancient religion

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