Recent genomic analyses show that the earliest peoples reaching Remote Oceania—associated with Austronesian-speaking Lapita culture—were almost completely East Asian, without detectable Papuan ancestry. However, Papuan-related genetic ancestry is found across present-day Pacific populations, indicating that peoples from Near Oceania have played a significant, but largely unknown, ancestral role. Here, new genome-wide data from 19 ancient South Pacific individuals provide direct evidence of a so-far undescribed Papuan expansion into Remote Oceania starting ~2,500 yr bp, far earlier than previously estimated and supporting a model from historical linguistics. New genome-wide data from 27 contemporary ni-Vanuatu demonstrate a subsequent and almost complete replacement of Lapita-Austronesian by Near Oceanian ancestry. Despite this massive demographic change, incoming Papuan languages did not replace Austronesian languages. Population replacement with language continuity is extremely rare—if not unprecedented—in human history. Our analyses show that rather than one large-scale event, the process was incremental and complex, with repeated migrations and sex-biased admixture with peoples from the Bismarck Archipelago.

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We thank the communities in Malakula and Efate in Vanuatu who participated in this study, and particularly all sample donors. We are grateful to M. Stoneking, I. Pugach and C.-C. Wang for comments, and to G. Brandt, R. Bianco and technicians at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History for laboratory support. This research was supported by the Max Planck Society. Archaeological investigations on Malakula, Vanuatu were funded by the Sasakawa Pacific Island Nations Fund, the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand (Fast-Start 9011/3602128; 04-U00–007), a National Geographic Scientific Research grant (7738–04) and an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant (DP0880789). Investigations on Tanna, Vanuatu were supported by an Australian Research Council Discover Project grant (DP160103578). F.V. is funded by CNRS-UMR 7041, H.B. is funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand (Standard Grant UOO0917) and a University of Otago Research Grant, and A.P. is funded by European Research Council Starting Grant ‘Waves’ (ERC758967).

Author information

Author notes

  1. These authors contributed equally: Cosimo Posth, Kathrin Nägele.


  1. Department of Archaeogenetics, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany

    • Cosimo Posth
    • , Kathrin Nägele
    • , Rebecca Kinaston
    • , Choongwon Jeong
    • , Johannes Krause
    •  & Adam Powell
  2. Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany

    • Heidi Colleran
    • , Stuart Bedford
    • , Kaitip W. Kami
    • , Mary Walworth
    • , Russell D. Gray
    •  & Adam Powell
  3. Maison de l’Archéologie et de l’Ethnologie, CNRS, UMR 7041, Nanterre, France

    • Frédérique Valentin
  4. School of Culture, History and Language, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Stuart Bedford
  5. Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Port-Vila, Vanuatu

    • Kaitip W. Kami
    •  & Richard Shing
  6. Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

    • Hallie Buckley
    •  & Rebecca Kinaston
  7. Archaeology and Natural History, College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Geoffrey R. Clark
  8. College of Arts, Society and Education, James Cook University, Cairns, Queensland, Australia

    • Christian Reepmeyer
  9. Department of Archaeology, University of Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

    • James Flexner
  10. Service de la Culture et du Patrimoine, Punaauia, Tahiti, French Polynesia

    • Tamara Maric
  11. Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Cultures, German Archaeological Institute, Bonn, Germany

    • Johannes Moser
  12. Department of Natural Sciences, German Archaeological Institute, Berlin, Germany

    • Julia Gresky
  13. Solomon Islands National Museum, Honiara, Solomon Islands

    • Lawrence Kiko
  14. MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford, UK

    • Kathryn J. Robson
  15. Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

    • Kathryn Auckland
    • , Adrian V. S. Hill
    •  & Alexander J. Mentzer
  16. School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

    • Stephen J. Oppenheimer
  17. Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany

    • Jana Zech
    •  & Patrick Roberts
  18. Waikato Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, The University of Waikato , Hamilton, New Zealand

    • Fiona Petchey


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F.V., S.B., R.S., H.B., R.K., G.R.C., C.R., J.F., T.M., J.M., J.G. and L.K. contributed archaeological material. H.C., K.W.K. and A.P. contributed the 27 present-day Vanuatu samples. J.Z., F.P. and P.R. contributed isotopic data and radiocarbon date calibrations. M.W. and R.D.G. contributed linguistic interpretation. F.V., S.B., J.M., F.P. and P.R. contributed text in the Supplementary Information. K.J.R., K.A., S.J.O., A.V.S.H. and A.J.M. contributed geographical labels for the ref. 32 samples. C.P. and K.N. performed ancient DNA laboratory work. C.P., K.N., C.J. and A.P. performed population genetic analyses. C.P., K.N., H.C. and A.P. wrote the paper with input from F.V., S.B., H.B., M.W., F.P., P.R., C.J., R.D.G. and J.K. C.P. and A.P. created the figures. The study was conceived and coordinated by C.P., K.N., H.C., R.D.G., J.K. and A.P.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Cosimo Posth or Heidi Colleran or Johannes Krause or Adam Powell.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary figures, tables, text and references

  2. Life Sciences Reporting Summary