The Genographic Project unveils the ancient ancestry of New Zealand, the world’s last settled islands

The Genographic Project results are in from 100 Kiwis (or New Zealanders). The results were revealed to an excited crowd of participants, which included New Zealand’s own Governor General Sir Jerry Mateparae.


Earlier this year, a team from National Geographic’s Genographic Project was invited by the Allan Wilson Centre to North Island, New Zealand to shed light on their genetic journey and collective past. Genographic scientist based in New Zealand, Dr. Lisa Matisoo-Smith joined Project Director Spencer Wells to discuss the project and lead the event.  Celebrating traditional Maori history, 100 excited participants interested in tracing their own ancient ancestry were brought together in the nation’s capital, Wellington. New Zealand’s Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae was among the participants.

New Zealand: The world’s last settlements

How does New Zealand fit into the larger human family tree? New Zealand’s two islands were among the last discovered by humans just 800 years ago, and also one of the last places colonized by Europeans just 200 years ago. And like Americans, Kiwis are an admixed* group, yet the genetic mixture is younger, and thus easier to piece apart. And it can’t go without mentioning; Wellington is the last (southern-most geographically) of the world’s capitals, and almost the last one alphabetically, too. No thanks to Zagreb, Croatia.

Results revealed

Well, you lasted this long, so here are the Genographic Project results:

Map of maternal lineages in New Zealand

Among the participants, nearly all European maternal haplogroups (branches of the human family tree) were accounted for, yet only three Asian lineages and two Oceanic, or Pacific Island lineages were detected. And among the European haplogroups, Northern Europe accounted for more than half of the groups, while Mediterranean haplogroups accounted for about a quarter of participants’ results.

Map of paternal lineages in New Zealand

Two distinct maternal Oceanic haplogroups were found in the DNA of six participants. These groups are commonly seen in Polynesia especially among the Maori people, New Zealand’s indigenous population. However, only one Oceanic paternal haplogroup was found  among the male participants. This special honor belonged to the Governor General himself, who is only the second person of Maori ancestry to be appointed leader of the country.  Sir Jerry Mateparae had the most Oceanic DNA overall (23%) among those present. By contrast, only ten other participants had at least 1% native Pacific Island ancestry. Although Mateparae was not overly surprised by this, he was more surprised by something else: “I’ve got a Mediterranean heritage. And gosh, I’d like to find out more about that”.

Do you have any genetic ties to this region of the world? Join the Genographic Project and uncover deep secrets about your past. Don’t be the last of your group to participate!

*What is an admixed group? 

By this we mean, a group with a mixture from different genetic backgrounds and geographical locations. You can learn more about reference populations here.

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
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.