In Photos: Ancient Skeletons Reveal the Ancestors of Polynesians

Lapita skull

skull from vanuatu

(Image credit: ANU)

DNA extracted from roughly 3,000-year-old skull found on the island of Vanuatu (shown here) reveals that the first people to settle Polynesia came from Taiwan or northern Philippines. The skull was found inside a vessel made by the Lapita, the ancient culture that colonized all of Polynesia.

Ancient skeleton

Vanuatu skeleton

(Image credit: ANU)

An approximately 3,000 year old burial in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu that is source of one of the ancient DNA samples reported on in this study. It is a triangular bone arrangement, with skulls at each vertex, lying on the legs of a skeleton without a skull.

Broader region

pacific islands

(Image credit: Kahuroa, Wikimedia Commons/ Vaka Moana: Voyages of the Ancestors - the discovery and settlement of the Pacific, ed K.R. Howe, 2008, p57.)

The broader region of Oceania, is often broken up into Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia. However, evidence suggests that the first inhabitants of many of these islands were likely the Lapita people, who came from somewhere near Taiwan or the Philipines.

Another view

ancient skeleton from vanuatu

(Image credit: ANU)

Here, another view of the Vanuatu skeleton.

First inhabitants

vanuatu skeleton

(Image credit: ANU)

A skeleton unearthed on the island of Vanuatu has revealed the first inhabitants of Polynesia.

Vanuatu today

vanuatu school children

(Image credit: livcool /

Two modern-day children in Vanuatu play. While tpeople of Vanuatu are classified as Melanesian, meaning their ancestry is closer to people of Papua New Guinea, the first inhabitants of the island likely came from Taiwan.

Modern-day Tongans

people of tonga

(Image credit: Don Mammoser /

Here, people from Tonga celebrate arrival of Fuifui Moimoi on his home island on November 17, 2013 in Tonga. Fuifui is Tonga international representative forward in rugby league. New evidence suggests the first inhabitants of Tonga arrived from Taiwan or the northern Philippines.

Solomon Islander

A blond-haired Solomon Island child smiles for the camera

(Image credit: © Sean Myles)

People on the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea, are considered part of the Melanesian culture group. Genetically, however, they likely differ from other people of the Pacific Islands only in the relative percentage of Papuan or Asian ancestry they carry.

Papuan Woman

Papua new guinean woman

(Image credit: Sergey Uryadnikov /

Portrait of a papuan woman from a korowai tribe. New Guinea Wild Jungle . May 15, 2016

Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.