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Book Chapter

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Papuan Pasts: Cultural, Linguistic and Biological Histories of Papuan-Speaking Peoples

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For a long time, many physical anthropologists and human geneticists considered Island Melanesian populations to be genetically impoverished, dominated by the effects of random genetic drift because of their small sizes, internally very homogeneous, and therefore of little relevance in reconstructing past human migrations. This view is changing. Here we present the developing detailed picture of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) variation in eastern New Guinea and Island Melanesia that reflects linguistic distinctions within the region as well as considerable island-by-island isolation. It also appears that the patterns of variation reflect marital migration distinctions between bush and beach populations. We have identified a number of regionally specific mtDNA variants. We also question the widely accepted hypothesis that the mtDNA variant referred to as the ‘Polynesian Motif’ (or alternatively the ‘Austronesian Motif’) developed outside this region somewhere to the west. It may well have first appeared among certain non-Austronesian speaking groups in eastern New Guinea or the Bismarcks. Overall, the developing mtDNA pattern appears to be more easily reconciled with that of other genetic and biometric variables.


mitochondria, genetic diversity, Melanesia



Date Posted: 14 June 2017