Old Chicken Bones May Tell the True Story of Who Discovered the Americas
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If you caught the 2012 adventure flick "Kon-Tiki," you know legendary explorer Thor Heyerdal was convinced that ancient Polynesians settled in South America centuries before Columbus ever set foot in the Western Hemisphere. Heyerdal even daringly crossed the Pacific Ocean on a balsa wood raft to prove it.
The theory gained momentum in 2007, when pre-Columbian-era chicken bones found in Chile seemed to be a DNA match with bones from archaeological sites in Polynesia and Southeast Asia. But according to a study published Monday in the official journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences, the idea was, well, for the birds.
"We analyze[d] ancient and modern material and reveal[ed] that previous studies have been impacted by contamination with modern chicken DNA," reads the study’s abstract. “As a result, there is no evidence for Polynesian dispersal of chickens to pre-Columbian South America.”
Womp, womp. Sorry, Polynesians. Looks like Columbus beat you to the punch.
That said, researchers found that DNA from ancient Polynesian chickens seems to have survived on some isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean, despite the introduction of domestic European chickens. This could be a boon for those concerned about preserving heritage breeds.
"These original lineages could be of considerable importance to the poultry industry which is concerned about the lack of genetic diversity in commercial stocks," said the project’s leader, University of Adelaide professor Alan Cooper, in a press release.
But don’t think the case of who really discovered the Americas is closed; there’s considerable evidence that the Vikings successfully crossed the Atlantic more than 500 years before Columbus.
Any ancient Norse chicken bones kicking around out there worth analyzing?