Back in mid-September Roberta Estes had a blog entry Native American Mitochondrial Haplogroups. It’s basically a list of mitochondrial haplogroups that exists among Native Americans. But what caught my eye was the Polynesian motif – B4a1a1. She wrote, “B4a1a1 – found in skeletal remains of the now extinct Botocudos (Aimores) Indians of Brazil, thought to perhaps have arrived from Polynesia via the slave trade. This haplogroup is found in 20% of the mtDNA of Madagascar. Goncalves 2013” and “B4a1a1a – found in skeletal remains of the now extinct Botocudos (Aimores) Indians of Brazil, thought to perhaps have arrived from Polynesia via the slave trade. This haplogroup is found in 20% of the mtDNA of Madagascar. Goncalves 2013.” And although there is the actual research out there, it started with an article back in April 2013 titled, “DNA study links indigenous Brazilians to Polynesians.” Although the article’s title itself only mentions a link, it can be confusing to the reader and can be misleading once you begin reading through it.
The article quoted Lisa Matisoo-Smith, a molecular anthropologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand where she said, “But to call that haplogroup Polynesian is a bit of a misnomer,” since the haplogroup is known to be in populations as far west as in Madagascar. The actual research can be found here, Identification of Polynesian mtDNA haplogroups in remains of Botocudo Amerindians from Brazil. It basically says that “Here we report the identification of mitochondrial sequences belonging to haplogroups characteristic of Polynesians in DNA extracted from ancient skulls of the now extinct Botocudo Indians from Brazil.” She does not seem to have been referring to the actual Polynesian motif but the fact that the research cited the mutations that is defined as the Polynesian motif.
The paper questions how did the presence of a Polynesian mtDNA show up in the gene pool of an extinct Brazilian Amerindian group who lived in the interior of Brazil? There are specific mutations occurring on the mitochondrial which identifies it as the Polynesian motif, and considering the evolutionary history of the Polynesian motif which is associated with the Austronesian expansion and the settling of Polynesia being much more recent than the peopling of the Americas. Why hypothesizing how the introduction of the Polynesian motif could have entered into South America, the article says in part, “….considering an ancient Paleoamerican origin of the Botocudo haplotypes, we should expect new ‘private’ mutations to have appeared. On the other hand, because we did not sequence the whole mtDNA, we cannot rule out the existence of such variations in the coding region.”
What is interesting to note is that is it not certain that these two skulls that they have analyzed were actual Polynesians or not. That is due to the fact that there was never a full sequencing test done on those two skulls that came up with the mutations that indicate the Polynesian motif. Instead, only HVR1, HVR2 and typed specific mutations on the coding region were sequenced. The findings mention specifically: 6719C, 15746G, 14022G and 12239T. These specific mutations on the coding region not only exists in my own mtDNA results (B4a1a1a3, now known as B4a1a1c) but so does a friend of mine who is identified as having the Malagasy motif. The paper already mentioned how these two skulls could have come back with such a haplogroup is possibly through the slave trade, originally from Madagascar. And there were trips originating from Madagascar that eventually took these slaves into Brazil.
So the real question is were these two skulls the result of that recent slave trade originating from Madagascar, or did somehow a very few handful of Polynesians made their way all the way to Brazil? The Botocudos lived in the interior portion of the state of Minas Gerais, so very far from the Pacific Ocean.
Lisa Matisoo-Smith said it best, that to call that haplogroup Polynesian is a bit of a misnomer, particularly because we know it also exists in the Philippines and the subgroup – B4a1a1b (Malagasy motif) is in Madagascar. Until a full sequencing test is done, there still may be some debate as to whether or not Polynesians have gone that far into the interior of South America, or that these skulls were the descendants of Malagasy brought over during the slave trade.