Ancient DNA analysis shows CHamorus are descendants of early settlers from Indonesia
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Ancient CHamorus from Unai and Latte period groups originated from Indonesia, according to two archeologists who unveiled the result of a DNA analysis which contravened earlier theories that the early settlers of Marianas were migrants from the Philippines.
Rosalind Hunter-Anderson and Joanne Eakin said the Unai and Latte people were the direct ancestors of modern CHamorus on Guam and the Northern Marianas.
The early settlers might have migrated to Guam and Saipan during the Holocene in Eastern Indonesia, most likely Sulawesi, they said.
"The search for CHamoru origins using ancient DNA has just begun to reveal information that is challenging older scenarios based on language similarities and pottery design comparisons," Hunter-Anderson and Eakin said during a virtual media conference. "Ancient DNA goes much deeper into the human past while directly connecting present-day people to that past."
They said DNA samples from the ancient remains discovered at Guam's Naton Beach and Saipan's Haputo and Anaguan sites showed no direct prehistoric connections to the Philippines.
Hunter-Anderson and Eakin were part of a team of archaeologists, osteologists, CHamoru language experts and geneticists collaborating on studies about population origins, movements, and relationships across the western Pacific.
They said the study showed that the ancestors of modern CHamoru people were here from the beginning of the permanent settlement.
"Ancient DNA from Late Unai and Latte individuals formed the genetic basis of our study, which we have interpreted through the lens of anthropological archaeology," Hunter-Anderson and Eakin said.
"These findings contradict CHamoru origin models based on historical linguistics and similarities in pottery, which assert the Marianas indigenous people derive their ancestry from farmers in the northern Philippines," they said.
The study found that despite differences in appearance and custom, the Unai and Latte people shared the same maternally inherited lineages, proof of genetic continuity across 2,500 years and into the present day.
"The Marianas data are limited due to the small number of archaeological sites sampled. A new goal is to obtain a more comprehensive record, analyzing more samples from sites in Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Rota," the archeologists said.
"The archaeological record in each island is complex and DNA from prehistoric occupants is bound to reveal new and interesting information, and we plan to pursue this exciting prospect in the near future," they said.
In all, the archaeological team collected ancient DNA samples from Guam, Saipan and Pohnpei.
"We compared them with modern DNA samples from Guam, Palau, Chuuk, and Pohnpei. Most of the prehistoric samples came from Guam and Saipan," Hunter-Anderson and Eakin said.