Polynesian origins

Slow boat to Melanesia?


The origin of the Polynesian islanders and of the Austronesian languages that they speak has been debated for more than 200 years. Diamond has presented the predominantly held modern viewpoint, described as the 'express train to Polynesia' model, which proposes that the ancestors of the Polynesians were early farmers who dispersed south from a homeland in South China/Taiwan, through Island Southeast Asia (replacing an indigenous 'Australoid' hunter-gatherer population), and then on east, out into the Pacific — all within the past 6,000 years1. However, evidence is accumulating from several genetic markers that Polynesian lineages have a much deeper ancestry within tropical Island Southeast Asia than this hypothesis would suggest. The new evidence implies that the Polynesians originated not in China/Taiwan, but in eastern Indonesia, somewhere between Wallace's line and the island of New Guinea.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Map showing the two main alternative views of Austronesian origins.


  1. 1

    Diamond, J. M. Nature 403, 709–710 (2000).

  2. 2

    Melton, T. et al. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 57, 403–414 (1995).

  3. 3

    Redd, A. J. et al. Mol. Biol. Evol. 12, 604–615 (1995).

  4. 4

    Richards, M., Oppenheimer, S. J. & Sykes, B. Am. J. Hum. Genet. 63, 1234–1236 (1998).

  5. 5

    Bellwood, P. in Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago 2nd edn, 119 (University of Hawai'i Press, Honolulu, 1997).

  6. 6

    Su, B. et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 97, 8225–8228 (2000).

  7. 7

    Serjeantson, S. W. & Hill, A. V. S. in The Colonization of the Pacific: A Genetic Trail (eds Hill, A. V. S. & Serjeantson, S. W.) 286 (Clarendon, Oxford, 1989).

  8. 8

    Baer, A. S. Asian Perspectives 34, 21–35 (1995).

  9. 9

    Hanihara, T. Anthropol. Sci. 101, 25–46 (1993).

  10. 10

    Meacham, W. Asian Perspectives 26, 89–106 (1984).

  11. 11

    Solheim, W. G. II in The History of Humanity Vol. 1 (ed. De Laet, S. J.) 468–481 (Routledge, London, 1994).

  12. 12

    Terrell, J. E. & Welsch, R. L. Antiquity 71, 548–572 (1997).

  13. 13

    Blust, R. Symp. Ser. Inst. Linguist. Acad. Sinica 1, 31–94 (1999).

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.