The Genographic Team Goes to New Zealand

Kia ora, or Hello from Gisborne, a small city on the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand.

Approaching the Gisborne harbour
photo by Colby Bishop

Just west of the International date line, Gisborne claimed for years to be the first city in the world to see each new day’s sunrise, but for political reasons the title is now held by Apia, Samoa. Gisborne is also where Captain James Cook stepped ashore on to the north island in October 1769 meeting the Maori for the first time. This week, the Genographic team is on an expedition working closely with the Maori, the indigenous people from of New Zealand. We are joining the efforts of Dr. Lisa Matisoo-Smith, the Genographic Principal Investigator for the Oceania region, in her work to better understand Polynesian history and use genetics to uncover how people came to populate the islands of the vast Pacific Ocean.

Coast of North Island, New Zealand
photo by Glynnis Breen

New Zealand is also special because it is the last land mass ever to be populated. And the Genographic Project’s expedition to New Zealand is part of Dr. Matisoo-Smith’s multi-year study titled “From Africa to Aotearoa (the Maori word for New Zealand).” Her study attempts to trace human migration from our deepest roots in Africa to the distant South Pacific, where we find one of the human family tree’s newest branch tips. All Genographic Project participants can trace their personal branch of the human family tree back to Africa, where modern human first arose more than 150,000 years ago. But humans first reach New Zealand only 800 years ago, and thus the Maori represent one the tree’s youngest branches. Visit Genographic.com to learn more about the project and stay tuned as we chronicle our field work here in New Zealand, and across the world.

Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic’s Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.

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