for National Geographic News
Like following a trail of genetic breadcrumbs, researchers have used pig DNA to reconstruct the migration route of humans out of Asia and into the Pacific.
The porcine clues have revealed that the story is more complex than long-held theories suggest.
Based on their evidence, the scientists say that various pig-toting cultures from Vietnam traveled south through the Malaysian Peninsula into the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java and into the Lesser Sunda Islands (Indonesia map).
From there the travelers reached New Guinea and then moved into Hawaii and French Polynesia (Oceania map).
This route is in stark contrast to the conventional theory that the first Pacific settlers originated in Taiwan and traveled as a single cultural unit through the Philippines to New Guinea and then further east.
"We know for certain that the pigs that are in the Pacific did not follow what's traditionally called the 'out of Taiwan' route," said Greger Larson, lead study author and a geneticist currently at Uppsala University in Sweden.
Larson's team looked in vain along the Taiwan-Philippines route for pigs with the same genetic signature as those that dominate in the Pacific, he added.
The pigs they found along that path are East Asian domestics, which Larson says were introduced to the region more recently.
Writing in last week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team suggests that if earlier travelers took that route, they did so without pigs.
"What it forces people immediately to say is, OK, the 'out of Taiwan' model, though it may be true for humans, is certainly not true for pigs," Larson said.
Where's the Pork?
Pig genes contain a signature that tells exactly where the animals came from, said Larson, who performed the research while at the University of Oxford in conjunction with Keith Dobney, an archaeologist at England's Durham University.
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