Polynesian mtDNA in Botocudo of Brazil

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.

6 thoughts on “Polynesian mtDNA in Botocudo of Brazil

  1. When I ran my DNA through a plethora of Gedmatch’s testing categories, I consistently ended up with Amerindian. Between 1% to 3 %. When I ran my kit through the Ancient DNA feature, not only did I match Clovis, Montana but the Botocudo people of Brazil. It was a small portion of my overall results (which were predominantly Russian) but it made me very curious. Do I have a native ancestor that I am not yet acquainted with?
    Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those percentages are enough to be considered statistical noise. Especially for those who have no known history for that particular group. The same for me as I consistently have usually 1 – 2% anything related to Native American, yet we don’t have any Native Ancestry since my paternal grandparents were from Asia and my maternal grandparents were Polynesian.

      GEDmatch calculators have specific categories and it takes your DNA and tries to fit them into these categories, compare to see what your DNA is similar to. The more categories there are, the higher the probability of it being less precise, but this may make a bit more sense to some as there are a lot of categories. When there are less categories or broader, more general categories seems the least complicated and usually more accurate unless these broad categories does not cover the entire world. Ethiohelix I was told was more for those of African and French (?) descent, while puntDNAL was designed for those of African ancestry. Harappaworld was designed more for South Asians and I thought MDLP was for eastern Europeans while Eurogenes for Europeans. So obviously if someone of strictly European descent using puntDNAL shouldn’t have to wonder why under their puntDNAL K10+ Eurasia should not wonder why they get 1% Khoesan. Especially since Khoesan (Khoisan) is a very specific ethnic group. Running a European through puntDNAL K8b African will only produce African groups. Even if I run my own DNA through that, my highest portion comes out as 71% Western Semitic. It does not mean that I am of Semitic origin, just that my particular DNA when run through that calculator seems to fit something more like those of Western Semitic origin. It’s the only place where they could place me.

      All of these are nothing but guess work based on whatever reference data that they have to use to compare you to. When I first tested at Family Tree DNA with their Population Finder, it specifically told me that I was mostly East Asian, of Cambodian ancestry. Does that mean that I am Cambodian? Certainly not, but that their reference samples used was Cambodians along with other East Asian groups but mine was more similar to Cambodians than Dai or Lahu or Han or She of East Asia.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Botocudo ancient DNA sample uploaded on GEDmatch | Hawaiian DNA

  3. If my grand aunt had not told me that we had a touch of American Indian I would have concluded that it was probably “statistical noise”. My DNA results, however, show that I do have a trace of American Indian which is consistent with what my grand aunt told me. My DNA also tells me that I am related to Kalani. While I believe I know how, I will need to verify it which, as most know, can be difficult with Hawaiian genealogy. If I am related to Kalani then perhaps he does have a trace of American Indian. The mystery continues.


    • We’re definitely related through multiple segments via the Polynesian side, the same exact way we connect through a lot of Maoris, Cook Island Maori, Tahitians, Samoans, Tongans and including a half-Rotuman person. We (my mother) has no Native American.


  4. The article I read,
    was quite clear about excluding either of the two slave trades due to timing. I know it seems a long way across from Polynesia to Brazil, but not so much if you go via the ocean and through rivers in central America, arriving in northern Brazil. After all, there was a river course used in order to cut through from Pacific to Atlantic before the building of the Panama Canal.


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