Sweet Potato DNA Challenges Theory That Polynesians Beat Columbus to America

Photo: AP

Christopher Columbus reached the New World in 1492, but some experts say Polynesian explorers beat him to it. There’s little evidence to support this fringe theory, but scientists have pointed to the presence of sweet potatoes, a plant thought to be native to the Americas, in the South Pacific as potential proof. A genetic analysis of the popular tuberous root and its relatives has now effectively quashed this hypothesis.

North America’s first human settlers likely arrived from Siberia via Beringia some 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, but that doesn’t mean these venturous humans were the only migrants to the continent. Take the Solutrean hypothesis for example, which suggests some early European Stone Age hunter-gatherers made the trek along a North Atlantic ice bridge to the North American east coast between 18,000 and 25,000 years ago, possibly a few thousand years before the first Eurasians began to trickle in on the opposite side of the continent.

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