Pre-Columbian Chickens and Missing Human Polynesian DNA in the Americas

Among some LDS folks, there’s been some interest in the recent news about the discovery of pre-Columbian chickens in the Americas (the peer-reviewed scientific article in is also available online). This isn’t directly relevant to the Book of Mormon since, contrary to claims of critics, the text does not require the familiar chicken to have been known to Book of Mormon peoples. The reference to chickens is in the use of a simile to describe how the Lord has cared for his people. (For what it may imply, see my discussion about chickens on my LDSFAQ page about plants and animals in the Book of Mormon.) Rather than settling any debate over chickens, I think what makes the new discovery so interesting is its implications about pre-Columbian transoceanic contact between the Americas and others – a peripheral but interesting topic for students of the Book of Mormon. And what is especially interesting about that is the implication on DNA issues. While there is string evidence for significant ancient contact between Polynesia and the Americas, DNA studies of Native Americans do not (yet) show evidence of such contact. Again, it’s only of peripheral interest, but it does help us better appreciate the limitations of DNA analysis, including how easy it is for specific lines of mitochondrial DNA or Y chromosomes to be lost over time.

Excerpt from the story:

Popular history, and a familiar rhyme about Christopher Columbus, holds that Europeans made contact with the Americas in 1492, with some arguing that the explorer and his crew were the first outsiders to reach the New World.

But chicken bones recently unearthed on the coast of Chile–dating prior to Columbus’ “discovery” of America and resembling the DNA of a fowl species native to Polynesia–may challenge that notion, researchers say.

“Chickens could not have gotten to South America on their own–they had to be taken by humans,” said anthropologist Lisa Matisoo-Smith from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Polynesians made contact with the west coast of South America as much as a century before any Spanish conquistadors, her findings imply. . . .

“There is increasing evidence of multiple contacts [of pre-Columbian Polynesians] with the Americas,” she said, “based on linguistic evidence and similarities in fish hook styles.” Physical evidence of human DNA from Polynesia has yet to be found in South America, she added. [Emphasis mine.]


Author: Jeff Lindsay

1 thought on “Pre-Columbian Chickens and Missing Human Polynesian DNA in the Americas

  1. Jeff,

    There is a new book out by Dr. John Sorenson, Professor Emeritus BYU, and Dr. Carl Johannessen, Professor Emeritus UO, that details the plant, animal, and microorganism evidence for early sustained transfer between the tropical cultures of the Old World and the tropical cultures of the Americas. It is titled World Trade and Biological Exchanges Before 1492. It puts forth convincing evidence for over 100 plants and animals that appear in both hemispheres prior to the voyages of Columbus, as long as 8000 years ago. The book is available at,, and You might find the book very interesting and helpful in your own research and conversation. The professors conducted a massive cross-discipline review of the literature and then traveled to various locations to ascertain the validity of the evidence. This book is the result of 30+ years of research.

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