Durham University

A Pacific adventure for north scientists

Pacific experience

By Tony Henderson

An island-hopping Pacific voyage will give North East scientists the chance to plot the route of one of the most dramatic human migrations in history.

The Durham University bio-archaeologists will be a key part of the 6,000km trip which set sail from the Philippines this week.

Doctors Keith Dobney and Greger Larson will be among crew members on two traditional Polynesian double canoes. The main aim of the voyage is to find out where the ancestors of Polynesian culture originated.

Dr Dobney said that the migrants left the South East Asia mainland in their canoes around 4,500 years ago and crossed vast distances to settle in most of the Pacific islands. “It was one of the most remarkable human migrations in history, not least in terms of the distance travelled,” said Dr Dobney.

“It is hard to imagine how far these people travelled. It is phenomenal.”

The key to plotting the migration route is through the plants and animals which the travellers took with them.

The Durham scientists will take thousands of genetic samples on hundreds of islands from pigs, dogs, chickens and Pacific rats which are the descendants of those animals which accompanied the original migrants.