Although the popularly held belief is that Columbus discovered America… it seems that he wasn’t actually the first to make it there from across the ocean. That’s right – the chickens beat him to it.
Well, actually both the chickens and the Polynesians arrived at the same time, according to ancient DNA evidence. It turns out that the ancient Polynesians were much better sailors than anyone gave them credit for, and somehow managed to beat Christopher Columbus to the Americas by at least a century, arriving in the early 1400s, if not before.
So, not only did the Polynesians colonize nearly every island in the South Pacific – and there’s plenty of evidence for their existence on these islands – but they apparently figured that journeys of several thousand miles weren’t enough. They wanted to sail even further, which brought them to: South America.
Ancient chicken bones found along the coast of Chile were DNA analyzed and compared with the DNA of other chickens found at archaeological sites across the Polynesian islands. The results? The chickens’ genetic stock was Polynesian and not European… and since chickens have a bit of problem when it comes to sailing across the open Pacific on their own, they must have arrived on the ships of Polynesian sailors.
The chicken bones dated to sometime between 1320-1410 AD, which fits with the time when Polynesians probably would have been expected to reach the American continent, although until now, there was no evidence that they actually did so. It is likely that they traveled here from Easter Island, and made their way across the ocean to Chile.
The Mapuche people living in Chile today, coincidently, have quite a number of Polynesian words in their language, and some of their tools are very similar to Polynesian items. While this may be a direct link between these people and the ancient sailor, there is not enough evidence to be %100 certain.
At the very least, there can be no doubt that Polynesian chickens – and humans – discovered America well before Christopher Columbus ever knew of its existence.
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Tomorrow: Sailing Obelisks