PORT VILA, Vanuatu, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Previous studies haves suggested Melanesians -- the native island people of Fiji and Papua New Guinea -- first settled Vanuatu. But new research points to the Polynesians.
The revelation was made possible by a 3,000-year-old skull excavated from an ancient cemetery on Vanuatu's Efate Island. The skull belonged to a member of the native Lapita people. It's the oldest skull ever recovered in the South Pacific.
Scientists from France and Australia compared the skull to the skulls of other Polynesian and Melanesian peoples and determined it was structurally most similar to those of modern Asians and Polynesians.
The evidence supports the theory that the Lapita, the descendants of Polynesian peoples, had arrived on and begun populating the Vanuatu islands prior to the Melanesians. The two peoples, once on the island together, likely interbred.
Researchers believe the settlements of Vanuatu -- and the mixing the Asian, Polynesian and Melaneasian peoples -- served as a springboard for further exploration and colonization in the Pacific Islands.
Researchers shared their latest findings in the journal PNAS.
"With a cultural and linguistic origin in Island Southeast Asia the Lapita expansion is thought to have led ultimately to the Polynesian settlement of the east Polynesian region after a time of mixing/integration in north Melanesia," scientists wrote.